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Deadly typhoon shuts down Philippine capital


Fishermen secure their boat and fishpens from strong winds and rain brought by Typhoon Rammasun (locally named Glenda) as it hit the coastal town of Bacoor, Cavite southwest of Manila, July 16, 2014. Photo - Reuters

Manila: Typhoon Rammasun shut down the Philippine capital on Wednesday as authorities said the first major storm of the country's brutal rainy season claimed at least four lives and forced hundreds of thousands to evacuate.

Wind gusts of up to 250 kilometres (155 miles) an hour and intense rain caused chaos across the megacity of Manila, as well as remote fishing villages, after Rammasun tore in from the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday night.

"I thought I was going to die. I went out to look for gasoline in case we needed to evacuate, but it was a mistake," said tricycle driver Pedro Rojas, 35, as he nursed a cut head while sheltering at a town hall on the outskirts of Manila.

"My tricycle rolled over twice after I slammed into sheets of rain. It was like hitting a wall... huge tin roofings were flying everywhere."

One woman was killed on the eastern Samar island, and three people died when a wall collapsed on them about 100 kilometres south of Manila, national disaster management council chief Alexander Pama said.

With the typhoon still passing over the Philippines and many areas without electricity, the scale of the damage and potential number of fatalities was impossible to determine.

However there were fears the death toll would rise with three fishermen reported missing on Tuesday night, and many poorly built homes destroyed in coastal villages as well as in urban slums.

Pama said he was trying to confirm another death, while local media cited a governor of a city on the outskirts of Manila reporting three deaths there.

The eye of the storm just missed Manila, home to more than 12 million people, but the huge winds and bursts of heavy rain brought the city to a virtual standstill.

Power in many areas, including the business district of Makati, was cut just after dawn as branches were torn off trees and electricity lines snapped. Electricity remained cut throughout the morning.

Homes destroyed
The winds also tore down shanty homes in slum areas where hundreds of thousands of people live along Manila Bay.

"Our house was destroyed and we lost many of our belongings," housewife Dayang Bansuan, said as she rested in a school that had been turned into an evacuation centre for people living in the coastal Manila slums.

"We fled our home just before dawn when the water started rising up to our ankles. I was really frightened, they (neighbours) were saying the winds were getting stronger. They were telling us to evacuate."

Across the country, about 400,000 people had fled their homes and sheltered in evacuation centres, according to the disaster management council.

Rammasun, which is Thai for "God of Thunder", was forecast to move out into the South China Sea on Wednesday afternoon, then track towards southern China, according to the national weather service.

The Philippines is hit by about 20 major storms a year, many of them deadly. The Southeast Asian archipelago is often the first major landmass to be struck after storms build above the warm Pacific Ocean waters.

In November Super Typhoon Haiyan unleashed seven-metre (23-foot) high storm surges that devastated Samar and neighbouring Leyte island, killing up to 7,300 people in one of the nation's worst natural disasters.

Rammasun was the first typhoon to make landfall since this year's rainy season began in June.

With the disaster of Haiyan still haunting the nation, President Benigno Aquino stressed on Tuesday night that people in Rammasun's path must be made to understand the dangers facing them.

"The objective has to be (to) minimise the casualties and the hardship of our people," he told civil defence officials.


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