x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

26 dead and 36 missing as typhoon lashes Philippines

Expatriates in UAE fear for the safety of their families after Typhoon Conson sliced through the main island of Luzon.

Residents try to salvage their damaged shanty yesterday along the coastal road in Paranaque in suburban Manila.
Residents try to salvage their damaged shanty yesterday along the coastal road in Paranaque in suburban Manila.

Twenty-six people died, 12 were injured and 36 were still missing last night after Typhoon Conson sliced through the main island of Luzon in the Philippines. Most of those who died were from Cavite and Batangas provinces, the National Disaster Co-ordinating Council said. The storm destroyed homes, felled trees, flooded parts of the capital, Manila, and snapped transmission lines, leaving millions without power for at least two days.

Last night the typhoon, with winds of 95kph, was heading for China, and gaining strength as it moved over the South China Sea. In the UAE, Filipino expatriates said they feared for the safety of their families. Armand Leus, 47, a cost controller in Abu Dhabi, called his sister in Santo Tomas town in Batangas, about 57km south of Manila. "She said it was raining really hard," he said. "I asked her to phone me if something untoward happens. So far, she hasn't called so I assume the family is safe."

The situation in Taal, Batangas, about 80km south of Manila, was worse as the area was plunged into darkness, according to another Abu Dhabi resident, Arnel Palo. "My wife called me on Tuesday night to assure me that they're OK," he said. "But I couldn't help but feel really worried so I phoned my two daughters today to check if they were safe." His daughters said some trees fell near the roof of their home, but did not cause any major damage.

"They still don't know when power will be restored," said Mr Palo, 46, a workshop supervisor in Abu Dhabi. "I told them to ensure they have sufficient food and water and to lock the doors to prevent anyone, such as thieves, from entering the house." Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, said her country was more prepared to deal with disasters after Tropical Storm Ketsana and Typhoon Parma hit Manila and the northern parts of the Philippines last year. Typhoons and tropical storms regularly hit the Philippines, China, Taiwan and Japan in the second half of the year, gathering strength from the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean or the South China Sea before weakening over land.

In September last year, Typhoon Ketsana dumped record rainfall that submerged 80 per cent of the capital region and nearby areas, killing 277, leaving tens of thousands homeless and causing more than US$100 million (Dh367m) of damage to crops, infrastructure and property.

Typhoon Parma weakened to a tropical storm that lingered off the Philippine coast after killing at least 16 and causing heavy flooding and landslides in October last year. At that time, thousands of Filipino expatriates in the Emirates had stepped up their efforts to help victims in the aftermath of the two storms. By yesterday evening the embassy had yet to receive calls from Filipinos in the Emirates wanting to know more about the condition of their relatives back home, Ms Princesa said. "Our president, Benigno Aquino, III, has ordered that we be prepared for such exigencies," she said. "In the UAE, I am hoping that Filipinos will also be equipped with the knowledge of disaster preparedness and management so they could share this with their families back home." Guillermo Redoblado, spokesman for the National Grid Corporation, said it would take a number of days to repair at least five major lines after cables and wires were cut on Tuesday night by falling trees, posts and strong winds. "The two to three days estimate is very conservative because we have not completed our assessment," Mr Redoblado told ANC television, adding that about 850 megawatts of capacity would be restored in the next 24-48 hours. Provinces neighbouring the capital were hit harder by Conson, which weakened to a tropical storm after reaching Luzon but still had gusts of up to 120kph. Reports on damage from outlying areas were sketchy because of unreliable communications. In the central province of Camarines Norte, four people drowned at sea, two were killed by falling trees, and 40 were missing, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo said. Eight of 19 fisherman missing since Tuesday night were found, but 11 remained unaccounted for, the army said. Fifteen people were killed in five provinces south of Manila and another man died north of the capital, local officials said. Conson was expected to reach southern China in 24-48 hours, the weather bureau said. Ahead of the typhoon, heavy rain lashed southern China, where more than 400 have died in floods this year. The government said parts of the Yangtze River had reached warning levels. Across Manila and surrounding provinces, the storm knocked over trees, covered roads in debris and stopped train services. Hundreds of families moved to temporary shelter because of flash floods. Mr Aquino criticised the weather bureau for inaccurate forecasts at a meeting of the National Disaster Coordinating Council at the main army base in Manila. "That information is sorely lacking and we have had this problem for quite a long time," Mr Aquino told the weather bureau. "You do what you are supposed to do and this is not acceptable. I hope this is the last time that we are brought to areas different from where we should be." Dozens of flights were suspended or diverted from Manila's main airport. Schools were closed and some government offices suspended operations as the country began cleaning up the debris. rruiz@thenational.ae