ABU DHABI // Typhoon Bopha smashed into the southern Philippines yesterday with winds of more than 200 kilometres per hour destroying homes, uprooting trees and killing at least 52 people.
Filipino expatriates in the UAE watched with concern as the strongest storm to hit the country this year brought scenes of devastation.
Cornelio Nambatac said that although his family had prepared for Bopha, he still worried about their safety.
"The strong winds toppled trees and ripped off roofs," said Mr Nambatac, 40, an Abu Dhabi government employee from Cagayan de Oro. "My family is OK but we're hoping it won't be a repeat of Sendong," he said, referring to the devastating storm that struck the Philippines in December last year.
Typhoon Washi, known locally as Sendong, claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people and affected more than a million others.
Liza Mazo, a regional civil defence official, said more casualties were expected to be discovered as search-and-rescue teams fanned out in Typhoon Bopha's wake.
ABS-CBN television said 43 of the deaths occurred in one southern town that was in the direct path of Bopha's 210 kilometre an hour winds soon after it hit land on Mindanao island's east coast at dawn. But the relatively low death toll in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon was due in part to an early evacuation.
Mr Nambatac's three sisters, their husbands, four nieces and a nephew survived Washi's fury last year. They had to climb on to the roof of their two-storey home in the middle of the night as floodwaters entered their house.
"They have since learned from that experience," he said. "They've stocked up on food and potable water and moved all the electronic items to the second floor."
Yesterday, the commercial centre of Cagayan de Oro was flooded as rivers overflowed after heavy rain.
Nolan Dalapo, 47, a library and research assistant at Abu Dhabi University, started monitoring news of the typhoon on Saturday.
Last year, his siblings' homes in Cagayan de Oro were damaged in the floods, and they lost all their belongings.
"They all live near the river so I've asked them to temporarily move to our family home," Mr Dalapo said. "My former colleagues are not taking any chances and are staying at evacuation centres."
Schools were shut in Mindanao and across large areas of the central Philippines, with some of the schoolrooms serving as evacuation centres or to store relief supplies.
Bopha is the 16th typhoon in Philippine territory this year, and the strongest yet. It made landfall at dawn yesterday in the southern province of Davao Oriental.
With a storm cloud covering of 500km, Bopha was moving west-northwest yesterday and was expected to move out into the South China Sea by tomorrow.
Jerry Villamor, 22, a salon worker in Abu Dhabi, called his mother in Davao City after watching the news on television.
"Our house is located on higher ground but it's near the sea," he said. "I hope my family and the residents in the area are all safe."
Annabel Marquizo, a nanny in Abu Dhabi who is from the gold-mining province of Compostela Valley, which includes the New Bataan town, said her brother was still missing as of last evening.
"He works in a mine and couldn't be contacted by my family until now," she said last night. "A coconut tree fell on our house, which is badly damaged. Many of our neighbours were injured and some died."
* With additional reporting by Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse