MANILA // Nineteen fishermen were reported missing as the Philippines' first typhoon of the year barreled toward the country's east coast today, prompting flight and ferry cancellations, school closures and warnings of floods and landslides. The military and coast guard have launched a search for the fishermen, who ventured to sea despite the rough weather in northeastern Catanduanes province, officials said.
Thirty-three of the country's 81 provinces and the capital Manila have been placed under storm alert, and residents in low-lying communities and near mountains and hills have been told to evacuate at any sign of danger. "Don't wait for the wall of water or rolling boulders," the social welfare secretary Corazon Soliman said. "Families should evacuate preventively if they're in the path of the typhoon."
Typhoon Conson, with sustained winds of 120kmph and gusts up to 150kmph, was expected to make landfall late today in mountainous Aurora or Quezon provinces in the country's rural northeast. The storm is then expected to cross rice-growing Luzon island on Wednesday and head out to the South China Sea, the government chief weather forecaster Prisco Nilo said. Big waves overturned three boats, carrying nine fishermen off Pandan township in Catanduanes. Villagers rescued one fisherman but eight others remained missing, the regional army spokesman Major Harold Cabunoc said. In nearby Bagamanok town, a villager reported that 11 men failed to return to shore after venturing out to sea to fish despite the rough weather, Mr Cabunoc said, adding authorities have warned fishermen to stay on shore due to the bad weather. The newly elected President Benigno Aquino III, facing his first possible natural calamity, has ordered disaster-response agencies to stand by to provide help, Ms Soliman said. Several domestic flights were canceled or diverted. Grade schools were closed in Manila and nearby regions. Sea travel by small ferries was suspended, stranding more than 2,000 people in ports on Luzon, Coast guard chief Wilfredo Tamayo said. Ms Soliman met budget secretary Florencio Abad Tuesday to discuss how to replenish the government's calamity fund, which was heavily used to rebuild communities devastated by back-to-back typhoons that killed nearly 1,000 people last year. About 20 typhoons and tropical storms lash the country each year. * Associated Press