Typhoon Hagupit knocked out power in entire coastal provinces, mowed down trees and sent more than 650,000 people into shelters before it weakened Sunday, sparing the central Philippines a repetition of unprecedented devastation by last year's storm.
Shallow floods, damaged shanties and ripped off store signs and tin roofs were a common sight across the region, but there were no confirmed deaths or major destruction after Hagupit slammed into Eastern Samar and other island provinces. It was packing maximum sustained winds of 140 kilometres (87 miles) per hour and gusts of 170 kph (106 mph), considerably weaker from its peak power but still a potentially deadly storm, according to forecasters.
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The typhoon was moving slowly, meaning more rainfall and a risk of landslides and flash floods.
"There are many trees that have toppled, some of them on the highway," police Senior Insp. Alex Robin said by phone late Saturday from Dolores, hours before Hagupit made landfall. "We are totally in the dark here. The only light comes from flashlights."
From Eastern Samar, Hagupit — Filipino for "smash" or "lash" — was expected to hammer parts of a string of island provinces that were devastated by Haiyan's tsunami-like storm surges and ferocious winds. Hagupit weakened slightly on Saturday, but remained dangerously powerful and erratic.
Traumatized by Typhoon Haiyan's massive death and destruction last year in the central region that's being partly whipped by Hagupit (pronounced HA'-goo-pit), more than 650,000 people readily fled to about 1,000 emergency shelters and safer grounds. The government, backed by the 120,000-strong military, launched massive preparations to attain a zero-casualty target.
Rhea Estuna, a 29-year-old mother of one, fled to central Tacloban city's evacuation centre as early as Thursday and waited in fear as Hagupit's wind and rains lashed the school, where she and her family sought refuge. When she peered outside Sunday, she said she saw a starkly different aftermath compared to the horror of Haiyan's aftermath.
"There were no bodies scattered on the road, no big mounds of debris," Estuna told The Associated Press by cellphone. "Thanks to God this typhoon wasn't as violent."
Haiyan's tsunami-like storm surges and killer winds left thousands of people dead and levelled entire villages, most of them in and around Tacloban.
Nearly a dozen countries led by the United States and the European Union have pledged to help in case of a catastrophe, disaster-response agency chief Alexander Pama said.
Experts to assess damage
The EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, Christos Stylianides, said a team of experts would be deployed to help assess the damage and needed response.
"The Philippines are not alone as they brace up for a possible hardship," Stylianides said, adding the European Commission was "hoping that the impact will be less powerful than a year ago when Typhoon Haiyan left a devastating imprint on the country."
Canadian teams will be in the Philippines to help Canadians on the ground there, Finance Minister Joe Oliver said on Saturday, but did not give a specific dollar amount for a relief fund.
"We don't know the extent of the damage yet," he said. Oliver urged Canadians abroad to register at travel.gc.ca so that they may be contacted by the government.
With a whirling band of rain clouds spanning 600 kilometres, Hagupit has gained speed and was moving westward at 16 km/h, according to forecasters.
In the central city of Tacloban, where Haiyan's storm surges killed thousands of people and leveled villages, news of the approaching typhoon rekindled painful memories. Many residents fled to storm shelters, a sports stadium and churches even before authorities urged them to evacuate.
"I'm scared," said Haiyan survivor Jojo Moro. "I'm praying to God not to let another disaster strike us again. We haven't recovered from the first."