MANILA, Philippines – A typhoon that spoiled Christmas Day in parts of the Philippines weakened slightly on Monday as it roared toward a congested region near the country’s capital, officials said.
They said Typhoon Nock-Ten killed at least one person and cut power to five provinces as well as displacing thousands of villagers and travellers in Asia’s Catholic bastion.
A farmer died after being pinned by a fallen tree in Quezon province southeast of Manila a few hours after the typhoon slammed into the country Sunday night. It then blew westward across mountainous and island provinces, damaging homes, uprooting trees and knocking down communications, according to officials and local news reports.
Although it has slightly weakened, the typhoon still has sustained winds of up 140 kilometres (90 miles) per hour, government forecasters said, and was moving toward the heavily populated provinces of Batangas and Cavite, south of Manila on Monday morning.
Tens of thousands of villagers, forced to spend Christmas in crowded and powerless emergency shelters, started to return home to deal with the damage after the typhoon struck during the country’s biggest holiday.
“They have left the evacuation centres and we’re seeing the sun again,” said Ann Ongjoco, mayor of Guinobatan town in Albay province, one of five provinces that lost electricity.
But she said her town, where more than 17,600 villagers fled to shelters in schools, will not be able to resume the holiday celebrations because of the post-typhoon mess. “Many houses made of light materials were destroyed,” she told The Associated Press by telephone.
The typhoon was one of the strongest to hit the Philippines since Typhoon Haiyan wreaked death and devastation in the central regions in 2013, but officials in some provinces found it difficult to convince people to abandon their Christmas celebrations and head for the shelters before the typhoon hit. Some officials said they had to impose forced evacuations.
In the past 65 years, seven typhoons have struck the Philippines on Christmas Day, according to the government’s weather agency.
Josefina Nao, who evacuated to a Guinobatan school with her six children, grandchildren and siblings, said it was one of her bleakest Christmas holidays, but that poor people like her did not have much choice.
She said town officials tried to cheer evacuees by distributing holiday food.
“I wish it was a merrier Christmas, but this is our best option because we’ll all be safe together,” the 60-year-old told the AP by phone from a classroom-turned-storm shelter that was void of any Christmas lights or decorations.
About 20 typhoons and storms, mostly from the Pacific, lash the Philippines each year, making the poor country of more than 100 million people one of the most disaster-prone in the world.
In November 2013, Haiyan struck the central Philippines with ferocious power, leaving more than 7,300 people dead or missing and displacing more than 5 million after levelling entire villages despite days of dire warnings by government officials.