Thousands flee as typhoon hits north Philippines, landslides feared

  • AFP, Manila
  • Updated: May 10, 2015 17:57 IST

More than 2,000 people were fleeing their homes as Typhoon Noul struck the northern Philippines Sunday, triggering warnings of possible flash floods, landslides and tsunami-like storm surges.

The storm's movement has slowed slightly but it has also strengthened to pack gusts of 220 kilometres (137 miles) per hour, said Esperanza Cayanan, chief of the government's weather monitoring division.

The storm hit Cagayan province on the northern edge of the main island of Luzon Sunday afternoon and was expected to move northwest, towards Japan, the government weather station said.

In Taiwan, which is also in the storm's predicted path, authorities warned sailors of strong winds and high waves and evacuated almost 1,000 tourists from an island off the southeast coast.

"This is a very dangerous storm. It is the strongest so far this year," said Rene Paciente, head of the Philippines' marine weather division.

More than 1,680 people in Cagayan have already been evacuated from coastal villages, said Norma Talosig, regional civil defence chief.

"They have to evacuate to higher ground, not in their village. They are being assisted by the local governments using buses and trucks, even ambulances," she told AFP.

More than 2,000 were expected to flee but Talosig expressed fears that some people would refuse to go due to complacency.

"The weather was good there earlier so it was a bit hard to get the message out," she said.

"Some people were worried out the security of the belongings they may leave behind. We have been trying our best, aiming for zero casualties but our efforts will be useless if some people don't listen," she added.

Take no chances

National civil defence chief Alexander Pama said that given the possibility of storm surges of up to two metres (6.5 feet), they were taking no chances.

"There is no exact science in this. So we will stay on the safe side" by ordering evacuations in vulnerable areas, he said.

"Even as we speak, our armed forces are already moving... to help in the evacuation. So too are our police forces who are conducting evacuations in their municipalities," he told reporters.

Storm surges -- tsunami-like waves generated by powerful typhoons -- have become a major concern during storms.

In November 2013 storm surges were the main killers as Super Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the central Philippines, leaving more than 7,350 people dead or missing.

Several hundred people living in a farming hamlet below the restive Bulusan volcano on Luzon have also been evacuated due to the potential for rain to mix with volcanic ash accumulated on its slopes and form deadly, fast-moving mudflows.

The civil defence office also cited numerous areas that could be hit by landslides or flash floods due to the "heavy to intense rainfall" brought by the typhoon. The government has suspended ferry services in affected areas and some domestic flights have also been cancelled.

About 20 typhoons and storms hit the Philippines each year, many of them deadly.

In Taiwan nearly 1,000 tourists had been evacuated from scenic Green Island by noon, an official from the county government said.

"Tourists would otherwise be stranded there for at least two days," he said.

All ferries and flights to Green Island and another tourist attraction, Orchid Island, were suspended and people were urged to stay away from coastal areas, with the storm expected to pass to the east of Taiwan on Monday.

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