Typhoon kills 4 in Philippines, cuts power ahead of Christmas

Bulan: Tattered lanterns, festive lights and tin roofs littered towns in the central Philippines on Tuesday after Typhoon Melor swept through, killing at least four people and leaving millions without power ahead of Christmas.

Distraught survivors surveyed their damaged homes on the eve of the traditional nine-day Christmas vigil that Filipinos observe with dawn masses and rice cakes. Christmas is the most celebrated holiday in the Philippines, where 80% of its 100 million people are Catholic, and decorations such as colourful lights and lanterns have already been put up in most towns.

“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,” 54-year-old rice farmer Noemi Pesigan told AFP.

Melor blew out the windows of Pesigan’s two-storey brick and wood house in Bulan, a small farming town about 350 kilometres southeast of the capital, Manila, and she survived the storm by sheltering in a nearby shop.

The typhoon tore in off the Pacific Ocean yesterday afternoon and hit farming and fishing communities in the eastern Philippines with winds of up to 185 kilometres an hour. 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 spokeswoman Mina Marasigan told AFP, without being able to confirm the other three fatalities. Melor weakened slightly as it cut across the central islands of the archipelago, but today afternoon its wind gusts were still reaching 170 kilometres an hour as it passed over the island of Mindoro.

It was due to move out into the South China Sea on Tuesday afternoon. Authorities had yet to make contact with some of the badly hit areas and it was unclear if or by how much the death toll would climb. In Bicol, a vast region in the east often hit by typhoons, 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,” 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. “What we are asking for is the early restoration of electricity,” he said.