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Storm exits, sparing Philippines of huge losses

    A dog stands inside a jeepney loaded with people returning back to their homes from an evacuation center after Typhoon Hagupit crossed Batangas province, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Manila, Philippines Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014.
    A man and woman wears raincoats while riding on a motorcycle as Typhoon Hagupit passes by Batangas province, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Manila, Philippines Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014.

SAN JUAN, Philippines >> A storm that began as a frighteningly powerful typhoon started to blow away from the Philippines Tuesday after leaving at least 21 people dead and forcing more than 1.6 million into shelters.

Typhoon Hagupit (pronounced HA’-goo-pit) dissipated into a tropical depression after crossing Lubang Island, 135 kilometers (85 miles) southwest of Manila, and was blowing into the South China Sea, forecasters said.

Batangas, the last major province lashed by Hagupit overnight, has so far not reported any casualties or major damage, echoing similar assessments from many central Philippines provinces spared of major losses.

"With God’s grace, there are zero casualties and no injuries because we were able to prepare," said Mayor Rodolfo Manalo of Batangas’ idyllic San Juan town, a flood-prone coastal community popular for its beach resorts, where more than 2,800 villagers fled to a public gymnasium and other shelters before the storm slammed ashore.

In southern Basilan province, Philippine navy vessels including a patrol gunboat rushed to an island where 18 Chinese fishing boats manned by 250 crewmen dropped anchor, said Capt. Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, head of a navy unit in the area. An inter-agency team inspected the boats, found the fishermen’s papers in order and no illegal items. The team accepted the fishermen’s explanation that they sought shelter from the typhoon while en route from Indonesia to China. The boats were due to sail on Tuesday.

Many of the archipelago’s central provinces were still reeling from last year’s monster Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing and a massive trail of destruction, fueling worries about Hagupit as it approached from the Pacific with menacing gusts of 250 kph (155 mph) last week.

Those concerns meant more than a million people readily fled from villages in the path of Hagupit — Filipino for "smash" or "lash — into government emergency shelters.

Hagupit left at least 21 people dead, many of whom drowned in Eastern Samar province, where the typhoon made its first landfall, according to the Philippine Red Cross. The government disaster-response agency has reported only 11 deaths, saying it was still verifying other reported casualties.

Although Hagupit blew in from the Pacific with enormous force, seasonal cold winds blowing down from China deprived it of the warm and humid seas where it draws power. The typhoon, the 18th to batter this disaster-prone country this year, slowly fizzled out.

Associated Press writers Oliver Teves and Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this report.

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