MANILA (REUTERS) - A typhoon killed at least 10 people as it churned across the Philippines and shut down the capital, cutting power and prompting the evacuation of more than 370,000 people, rescue officials said on Wednesday.
The eye of Typhoon Rammasun, the strongest storm to hit the country this year, passed to the south of Manila on Wednesday after cutting a path across the main island of Luzon, toppling trees and power lines and causing electrocutions and widespread blackouts.
Government offices, financial markets and schools closed for the day. Major roads across Luzon were blocked by debris, fallen trees, electricity poles and tin roofs ripped off village houses.
The storm uprooted trees in the capital where palm trees lining major arteries were bent over by the wind as broken hoardings bounced down the streets.
Mr Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross, said there was minimal damage in the capital but staff were trying to rescue people trapped by fallen debris in Batangas City to the south where two people were electrocuted.
"We have not received reports of major flooding in Metro Manila because the typhoon did not bring rain, but the winds were strong," he said.
The number of evacuated people had reached more than 370,000, mostly in the eastern province of Albay, the first to be hit by the typhoon, the disaster agency said. They were taken to schools, gymnasiums and town halls converted into shelters.
At least four south-eastern provinces on Luzon declared, or were about to declare, a state of calamity, allowing the local governments to tap emergency relief funds.
The storm brought storm surges to Manila Bay and prompted disaster officials to evacuate slum-dwellers on the capital's outskirts. More surges were expected as the storm headed west.
More than half of Luzon was without power supply, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla told reporters, adding that he could not say when it would be back up. Manila Electric Company, the country's biggest power utility exclusively supplying to the capital, said around 86 per cent of its customers were without electricity.
Parts of the Philippines are still recovering from Typhoon Haiyan, one of the biggest cyclones known to have made landfall anywhere. It killed more than 6,100 people last November in the central provinces, many in tsunami-like sea surges, and left millions homeless.
Tropical Storm Risk, which monitors cyclones, labelled Rammasun a category-two storm on a scale of one to five as it headed west into the South China Sea. Super typhoon Haiyan was category five. But it predicted Rammasun would gain in strength to a category-three storm within a couple of days once it was back out at sea, picking up energy from the warm waters as it headed for the Chinese island of Hainan.
Ms Rhea Catada, who works for Oxfam in Tacloban, which suffered the brunt of Haiyan, said thousands of people in tents and coastal villages had been evacuated to higher ground.
"They are scared because their experiences during Haiyan last year are still fresh," she said. "Now they are evacuating voluntarily and leaving behind their belongings."
Social Work Secretary Dinky Soliman said 5,335 families, or nearly 27,000 people, had been "affected" by the storm in Tacloban. Some had returned to the Astrodome, where thousands sought shelter and dozens drowned during storm surges in the November disaster.
A 25-year-old woman was killed when she was hit by a falling electricity pole as Rammasun hit the east coast on Tuesday, the Philippine disaster agency said. A pregnant woman was killed when a house wall collapsed in Lucena City in Quezon province south of the capital.
Nearly 400 flights were grounded during a four-hour closure of Manila airport. Two airliners suffered minor damage when gusts blew them into nearby obstacles, airport officials said.
Train services in the capital remained suspended because of the lack of power. Ferry services were to resume later in the day, including to the holiday island of Boracay where 300 tourists were stranded. Schools, public offices and financial markets will reopen on Thursday.