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Powerful typhoon slams into eastern Philippines

MANILA — Typhoon Hagupit made its first landfall late Saturday in the eastern Philippines, where more than 650,000 people have fled to safety. The strong storm comes barely one year after Super Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the island nation.

The country’s weather agency says the typhoon, packing maximum sustained winds of 109 mph and gusts of 130 mph — equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane — hit in Dolores town in central Eastern Samar province.

The U.S. military’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center rated it as a major Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds at landfall.

“Winds are very strong. It’s been an hour of wind lashing and heavy rains,” Sherrywin Simon, who is visiting family in Tacloban, wrote early Sunday morning local time. “Thankfully no howling, which makes it less frightening, but it makes the sound of big waves smashing against a stony mountain terrain.”

Hagupit is forecast to make at least six landfalls from Saturday night to Monday morning as it passes through the island nation, the Philippine weather service reported.

“The greatest danger from the storm may come from its rains,” meteorologist Jeff Masters said. “Hagupit’s slow forward speed will allow torrential rains to fall for a long period of time, and widespread rainfall amounts of 10-15 inches are likely, with some mountainous areas receiving 15-25 inches.”

The typhoon is referred to locally as “Ruby.” So far, reports of injures or deaths have not filtered out.

“Even with the frequent intensity changes of Hagupit, it is important that those in its path realize that a deadly, destructive storm surge is still possible near and just north of where landfall occurs,” AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani warned.

Nearly 100 domestic flights have been canceled in the Philippines and inter-island ferry services suspended, stranding thousands of people.

Hagupit’s winds and pounding rain knocked out power and toppled trees in Dolores and other eastern coastal towns hours before it barreled inland in a region still haunted by the massive death and destruction wrought in November last year when Super Typhoon Haiyan left more than 7,300 people dead or missing.

The Philippines’ 120,000-troop-strong military has gone on full alert to respond to a possible catastrophe.

Even before the storm landed, Donna Diaz, an aid worker in the city of Tacloban, which was hit hard by Haiyan, said Ruby tore roofs off buildings and knocked out power. In Tacloban, residents stacked sandbags to block floodwaters. Residents in the area were once again expecting the worst.

“Everybody is in fear because of what happened during (Haiyan),” said Ben Evardone, a politician from Eastern Samar. “We can already feel the wrath of the typhoon. Everybody is praying.”

Because Hagupit is likely to track very close to the capital city of Manila as a strong tropical storm or weak Category 1 typhoon, heavy rains of 10-15 inches could affect this heavily populated part of the country, resulting in yet another billion-dollar typhoon disaster for the Philippines, Masters predicted.

Over the past 10 years, according to the Weather Channel, six separate tropical cyclones have each claimed over 1,000 lives in the Philippines, including:

  • Haiyan/Yolanda, November 2013: Over 7,300 killed
  • Bopha/Pablo, December 2012: 1,901 killed
  • Washi/Sendong, December 2011: 1,268 killed
  • Fengshen/Frank, June 2008: 1,410 killed
  • Durian/Reming, November/December 2006: 1,399 killed
  • Winnie, November 2004: 1,593 killed

Rice reported from Silver Spring, Md. Contributing: The Associated Press

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