Rains lash disaster-weary Philippines

Heavy rain and strong winds are pounding the Philippines as millions shelter from a giant storm threatening more devastation to areas yet to recover from a deadly super typhoon last year.

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Across the country, people huddled in evacuation centres and homes as Typhoon Hagupit churned towards the disaster-plagued Southeast Asian nation, with the eye of the storm expected to hit on Saturday night.

“This is it. I know you are tired, not enough sleep, not enough food, too much coffee,” Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said as he called for a final effort to bring more people in vulnerable areas to safe shelters.

“This is our last push. Every person we can save now is one less we have to look for after the typhoon passes.”

Roxas was speaking at a nationally televised planning conference from the eastern island of Samar, which was forecast to be the first hit when Hagupit arrives bringing with it winds of 185 kilometres an hour.

Hagupit is expected to take three days to cut across the Philippines, passing over mostly poor farming central regions, then possibly the southern regions of the densely populated capital of Manila.

The local Pagasa weather agency and the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center have projected slightly different paths for Hagupit, with the American service predicting it will get closer to Manila.

Regardless, tens of millions of people live in the typhoon’s path, including those in the central Philippines who are still struggling to recover from the devastation of Super Typhoon Haiyan 13 months ago.

Haiyan was the strongest storm ever recorded on land, with winds of 315 kilometres an hour.

It also generated tsunami-like storm surges that claimed more than 7350 lives, making it one of the Philippines’ deadliest natural disasters.

In Tacloban, one of the cities worst-hit by Haiyan, thousands of traumatised typhoon survivors crammed into schools, churches and other evacuation centres on Saturday.

“We are afraid. People are panicking,” Alma Gaut, 36, whose house was destroyed and mother died during Haiyan, said as she huddled in the second floor of a university with more than 1000 others.

“All we have is a tattered, plastic sheet to sleep on. My grandmother is already feeling the cold.”

Outside, the town appeared almost deserted as heavy rain fell and trees bent with the wind in what residents feared was an ominous prelude to another disaster.

Local media outlets showed steadily worsening weather on Saturday afternoon in the eastern regions facing the Pacific Ocean, with waves more than one metre high pounding coasts and flash flooding in some towns.

In Catbalogan, the capital of neighbouring Samar island, authorities were preparing for water surges more than one storey high.

More than 10,000 people had been ordered into safe buildings, according to mayor Stephany Uy-Tan.

“We don’t want people to panic but I ordered forced evacuations so they would be safe,” he said.

In the eastern region of Bicol alone, authorities said they were aiming for 2.5 million people – half the local population – to be in evacuation centres by Saturday night.