MANILA • Powerful Typhoon Melor killed at least four people and left millions without power ahead of Christmas as it swept through the central Philippines yesterday.
In one of the largest mass evacuations in the country's recent history, almost 800,000 people left their homes, and dozens of domestic flights and ferry services were cancelled.
Tin roofs and festive lights littered towns yesterday and distraught residents surveyed their damaged homes on the eve of the traditional nine-day Christmas vigil that Filipinos observe with dawn masses and rice cakes.
"It will be a very sad Christmas and a dark one because we have no power. But the important thing is everyone around me is still moving," said 54-year-old rice farmer Noemi Pesigan in Bulan, a small farming town about 350km south-east of Manila.
Packing winds of 140kmh, the typhoon tore in off the Pacific Ocean on Monday afternoon and hit farming and fishing communities in the eastern Philippines.
A SAD, DARK CHRISTMAS
It will be a very sad Christmas and a dark one because we have no power. But the important thing is everyone around me is still moving.
RICE FARMER NOEMI PESIGAN, 54, in Bulan, a small farming town about 350km south-east of Manila
Three people were killed in floods in northern Samar province, which faces the Pacific, municipal disaster officer Jonathan Baldo told DZMM radio. Flying debris also killed a man in northern Samar, national disaster agency spokesman Mina Marasigan said.
Mr Richard Gordon, the chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, said the small town of Catarman, in northern Samar, appeared to have been the hardest hit by Melor. The area was without power, water and cellphone communications.
In Bicol, a vast region in the east often hit by typhoons, the authorities credited the early evacuation of 720,000 people for what they believed would be a low death toll. "We have zero floods, zero deaths, zero casualties," Mr Joey Salceda, governor of Albay province in Bicol, told ABS-CBN television. But he said the entire province of 1.2 million people was without power.
Melor weakened slightly as it cut across the central islands but wind gusts were still reaching 170kmh as it passed over Mindoro on its way out into the South China Sea.
Cold north-east monsoon winds are expected to weaken the typhoon this morning into a severe tropical storm, then into a tropical depression tomorrow.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES