Typhoon Rai weakens after pummelling central Philippines

Government workers clearing a fallen electric post in Iloilo city, Philippines, on Dec 17, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Philippine Coast Guard personnel rescue residents in Cagayan De Oro City, Philippines, on Dec 16, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (AFP, REUTERS) - The strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year uprooted trees, toppled power lines and flooded villages as it barrelled across the archipelago on Friday (Dec 17), leaving at least one person dead. 

More than 300,000 people fled their homes and beachfront resorts as Typhoon Rai pummelled the southern and central regions of the country, knocking out communications in some areas and tearing roofs off buildings.

Rai was a super typhoon when it slammed into Siargao island on Thursday, packing maximum sustained winds of 195kmh.

By Friday, wind speeds had eased to 155kmh, the state weather forecaster said. 

“We are seeing people walking in the streets, many of them shell-shocked,” ABS-CBN correspondent Dennis Datu reported from the hard-hit city of Surigao on the southern island of Mindanao. 

“All buildings sustained heavy damage, including the provincial disaster office. It looks like it has been hit by a bomb.”

Mr Datu said the main roads leading into the coastal city had been cut off by landslides, fallen trees and toppled power poles. 

The national disaster agency confirmed that one person had been killed and two others injured in the storm, which was heading towards the popular tourist destination of Palawan island. 

More than 300,000 people had sought emergency shelter, the agency said. About 18,000 had yet to return home. 

Surigao City Mayor Ernesto Matugas told ABS-CBN that Rai ravaged the city of around 170,000 people for several hours, causing “severe” damage. 

“The wind was very strong,” Mr Matugas said. “Everything sustained damage - roofs blown off, access roads blocked by landslides.”

Scores of flights were cancelled across the country on Thursday and dozens of ports temporarily closed as the weather bureau warned several metre-high storm surges could cause “life-threatening flooding” in low-lying coastal areas. 

Rai, locally named Odette, is hitting the Philippines late in the typhoon season, with most cyclones developing between July and October.  Scientists have long warned that typhoons are becoming more powerful, and strengthening more rapidly, as the world becomes warmer because of human-driven climate change. 

A super typhoon is the equivalent of a category five hurricane in the United States. The earth tends to experience around five storms of that power a year. 

Rai was moving across the Visayas region towards Palawan on Friday and was expected to emerge on Saturday over the South China Sea, heading towards Vietnam. 

The typhoon, the 15th to strike the archipelago this year, forced the Philippines to postpone the start of a mass vaccination drive in most of the country.

About 20 typhoons hit the archipelago on average each year, according to the weather authorities.

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