Monday, October 18, 2010

Super Typhoon Megi hits northern Philippines


An intense "super typhoon" has made landfall in the northern Philippines, lashing the area with heavy rains and winds of more than 225km/h (140mph). Thousands of people in the path of storm Megi have fled their homes. Emergency services are on high alert and schools are closed in many areas. Megi is the strongest storm the Philippines has faced for four years. In 2006, a storm with winds of 155km/h triggered mudslides, burying villages and killing about 1,000 people. Tropical cyclones formed in the Pacific Ocean are called typhoons, but are classified on a scale of one to five in the same way as Atlantic Ocean hurricanes. Category Five typhoons, with sustained winds of at least 155 knots (140mph; 250km/h), are commonly referred to as super typhoons. Forecasters said Megi was a super typhoon as it made landfall, but was likely to weaken slightly as it made its way across the northern Philippines. The northern provinces of Cagayan and Isabela are on the highest storm alert, and were braced for heavy damage as Megi made landfall on Monday morning. Reuters news agency reported that Megi hit north-eastern Isabela at about 1125 (0325 GMT). Details from the areas directly in the path of the storm have been slow to emerge, but the Associated Press reported huge waves and strong rains as well as powerful winds winds that brought down power lines.

One man in Cagayan was reported missing after he fell into the fast-flowing Buntun river. The man was named as Vicente Decena, a candidate in next week's local elections. Officials have warned that the heavy rain and high winds could damage buildings, power supplies and agriculture. Emergency services have been stocking up on food and medicines, says the BBC's Kate McGeown in the capital, Manila. Government forecasters say waves off the east coast could be greater than 14m (46ft). Sea travel has been banned. The coast guard has been instructed to forbid all fishing vessels from setting out to sea in the north, says AFP news agency. Thousands of soldiers and officers are on standby to deliver aid and rescue people stranded by the floods. Trucks, rescue boats and food packs have been pre-positioned near vulnerable areas, said Benito Ramos, a senior disaster-response official. "This is like preparing for war," he told the Associated Press. "We know the past lessons and we're aiming for zero casualties." Schools in the north were closed on Monday. Farmers were urged to harvest as many of their crops as possible before the typhoon hit, our correspondent says. The area in the storm's path is one of the country's main rice-growing regions. In July, President Benigno Aquino sacked the head of the weather bureau after he failed to predict a typhoon which unexpectedly changed course and hit Manila, killing more than 100 people. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center of the US Navy says Megi is expected to weaken to typhoon intensity as it crosses the Cordillera mountain range. However, it will then re-emerge into the South China Sea and re-intensify as it heads for southern China.

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