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Thousands flee as typhoon heads for Manila

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ASSOCIATED PRESS
Soldiers unload sacks of rice and other necessities at an evacuation center in Legazpi city, Albay province about 340 kilometers (212 miles) southeast of Manila, Philippines in anticipation of typhoon Rammasun that is expected to hit the northeastern Philippines Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Typhoon Rammasun, packing winds of 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 150 kph (93 mph), was expected to smash into land later Tuesday in Albay or Sorsogon provinces, where thousands of residents have moved from their villages to emergency shelters. Schools suspended classes in several cities, including in the capital, Manila, in the typhoon's expected path and about 50 domestic flights and four international flights have been cancelled due to bad weather. Albay, about 340 kilometers (212 miles) southeast of Manila, is a disaster-prone province where mudslides from Mayon, the country's most active volcano, buried villages in 2006 and left about 1,600 people dead and missing. (AP Photo)

MANILA, Philippines >> A typhoon slammed into the northeastern Philippines late Tuesday night, flooding low-lying villages, ripping off roofs and knocking down trees and electric posts in a disaster-prone region where tens of thousands of people fled to safety ahead of the deluge.

Damage from Typhoon Rammasun could not be assessed until daybreak, especially in areas that lost power while being pummeled by the wind and rain. No casualties were immediately reported, though three fishermen were missing in Catanduanes province.

The fast-moving typhoon made landfall in nearby Albay province while packing sustained winds of 80 miles per hour and gusts of up to 99 mph. Heading northwest, the storm is forecast to hit Manila, the flood-prone capital of 12 million people, on Wednesday morning.

Polangui Mayor Cherilie Mella Sampal estimated more than half of the 15,000 to 20,000 houses in her rice-growing town may have been damaged or blown away by the fierce wind and rain that came around nightfall.

As the typhoon raged for about three hours, Sampal said she saw the wind topple electric posts and lift roofs off houses. Many fallen trees also blocked roads in her town of 80,000 people, about 10,000 of whom were moved to safety, she said.

While Albay is used to calamities inflicted by storms and Mayon, the country’s most active volcano, Sampal said her townfolk were apprehensive after witnessing the massive devastation and deaths wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the central Philippines last November.

“We’re used to and prepared for calamities,” Sampal told The Associated Press by cellphone. “But when people heard that the eye of the typhoon will hit the province, they feared we may end up like the victims of Yolanda,” she said, referring to the local name of Haiyan.

About 300,000 people moved to safer ground from their homes in Albay and five nearby provinces threatened by flooding, landslides and storm surges, many of them haunted by memories of last year’s disaster, officials said. Haiyan’s strong winds and tsunami-like storm surges flattened towns, leaving at least 6,300 people dead and more than 1,000 missing.

Albay, about 212 miles southeast of Manila, the capital, has had its share of major disasters. Mudslides from Mayon volcano buried villages during a 2006 typhoon and left about 1,600 people dead and missing.

“I got scared because our house was being pounded by strong wind and rain. We went and got drenched in the rain,” Lucille Navarro, a 35-year-old mother of two, said by cellphone from a crowded evacuation shelter in Albay’s Daraga town, where she brought her son and daughter.

Alexander Pama, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, said many villagers, mindful of past disasters, cooperated and moved rapidly when told to evacuate. But he added that he was concerned the typhoon would roar through some densely populated regions in the dark, many without power and communications.

With its 310-mile wide rain band, the typhoon was expected to scythe northwestward through a half a dozen provinces overnight before hitting metropolitan Manila in the morning. Government work and classes have been suspended.

Rammasun, the Thai term for god of thunder, was forecast to blow across rice-growing northern provinces before entering the sea and heading toward Vietnam or southern China on Thursday.

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Associated Press writer Oliver Teves contributed to this report.

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