x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Filipino army hunts for lost fisherman after Typhoon Conson

Troops scour Philippines coastlines in search of dozens of fishermen who went missing after ferocious typhoon battered the country.

MANILA // Troops today scoured jagged coastlines on the Philippines' eastern seaboard in search of dozens of fishermen who went missing after a ferocious typhoon battered the country, killing at least 23 people. Using rubber boats and small fishing vessels, hundreds of soldiers raced to look for the 59 fishermen amid fears those still alive could succumb to hypothermia, the regional military spokesman, Maj Harold Cabunoc, said.

"We are still hoping we will get some of them alive. Some of them could just be stranded on small islands," he said. Maj Cabunoc said troops yesterday found eight fishermen on a remote island after their small vessel capsized, but a ninth who survived with the group died from hypothermia. That fisherman was among 23 people who have so far been confirmed killed from Typhoon Conson, which slammed into Manila and other parts of the Philippines' main island of Luzon yesterday.

The Philippines is in the so-called typhoon belt of the Pacific. Up to 20 typhoons sweep through the country each year, killing hundreds of people. But the ferocity of Conson, which was the first typhoon of the season, took many people in Manila by surprise after the state weather service said it would only strike provinces to the north of the capital. Conson destroyed shanty towns on the outskirts of Manila and knocked out power for nearly all of the capital Wednesday, bringing the city to a virtual standstill.

Millions of people remained without power today after electricity for nearly the whole of Luzon was cut off because of the storm. Power officials said electricity supplies for those who could get access would be rationed and called on the public to conserve energy. "We have to ration off supply. There will be three-hour rotational brownouts (outages)," Dina Lomotan, a spokeswoman for Manila Electric, said on local radio.

The Philippines National Grid said it was rushing to complete repair work on damaged power pylons and transmission lines within the day. It said 81 per cent of power load in the Luzon grid had been restored as of early today, but that rotating brownouts were necessary to balance available supply against the heavy demand. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda assured Manila's 12 million residents of steady power by the end of the day.

"Power within Manila will be restored by 95 per cent tonight," he said. Telephone networks that were brought down by the typhoon also remained patchy. The government said its schools had reopened, but many private schools remained closed because of continuing power outages. In Laguna, an agricultural province bordering southern Manila that was one of the worst affected by Conson, authorities allowed the local government to tap into emergency funds to address a "state of calamity."

While hundreds of families who sought shelter in public buildings at the height of the storm had gone home, damage to high-value crops was high and six people also died in the province, the Laguna governor Jeorge Ejercito said. The government weather station said that, as of lunchtime today, Conson was over the South China Sea and moving northwest towards southern China. * AFP