Strong typhoon pounds Philippines; 41K leave homes

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Associated Press

Posted on December 3, 2012 at 10:02 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 4 at 3:05 AM

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year was pounding southern provinces Tuesday, cutting power, suspending travel and flooding areas already vulnerable to landslides.

More than 41,000 residents have moved out of their homes in high-risk coastal villages and along rivers, including in southern provinces that were devastated by a deadly storm a year ago.

Civil defense chief Benito Ramos said officials were checking for casualties or damage from a landslide on a mountainside village in Compostela Valley province. They were also working to verify unconfirmed casualty reports from Southern Leyte and Davao Oriental provinces. Power has been cut off in several municipalities in southern Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Davao Oriental provinces while parts of Agusan del Sur province are flooded, he added.

On Monday, President Benigno Aquino III made a national TV appeal for people in Typhoon Bopha's path to move to safety and take storm warnings seriously.

"This typhoon is not a joke," Aquino said after meeting top officials in charge of disaster-response.

"But we can minimize the damage and loss of lives if we help each other," he added.

Government forecaster Jori Loiz said Bopha, the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year has weakened since it made landfall in Davao Oriental province early Tuesday. It now packs 160 kilometers (99 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 195 kph (121 mph).

The typhoon's movement has slowed to 20 kph (12 mph) and veered northwest, Loiz said. Its eye was last estimated at 50 kilometers (31 miles) east of Bukidnon's Malaybalay city.

From the south, it is forecast to cross to Negros island in central Philippines and the northern portion of western Palawan island before blowing out into the South China Sea.

Bopha, which has a 600-kilometer- (373-mile-) wide rain band, was expected to be out of Philippine territory by Friday.

At least 80 domestic flights have been canceled.

Aquino said army troops deployed search and rescue boats in advance. Authorities ordered small boats and ferries not to venture out along the country's eastern seaboard, warning of rough seas and torrential rain and wind that could whip up four-meter (13-foot) waves.

In the mountainous Compostela Valley, authorities halted mining operations and ordered villagers to evacuate to prevent a repeat of deadly losses from landslides and the collapse of mine tunnels seen in recent storms.

Residents in a riverside village that was wiped out by the storm last December in southern Cagayan de Oro city moved to a government hall, carrying TV sets, bundles of clothes and a pig.

Nearly 8,000 villagers were moved to four government shelters in Hinatuan, the coastal town that was directly in Bopha's path until the typhoon began to veer slightly, officials said.

Bopha, a Cambodian word for flower or a girl, is the 16th weather disturbance to hit the Philippines this year, less than the 20 typhoons and storms that normally lash the archipelago annually. Forecasters say at least one more storm may hit the country before Christmas.

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Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.

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