Typhoon Hagupit has been downgraded to a tropical storm as it swept out of the Philippines where it killed at least 42 people and wreaked havoc in several parts of the archipelago.

Nearly 1.7 million people evacuated from their homes were preparing to return on Tuesday after the storm passed over the far western islands of the Southeast Asian country and approached the South China Sea.

Despite the destruction it was a far cry from the lethal impact of super typhoon Haiyan last year when thousands were killed or went missing, and over a million homes were wrecked.

Most of the people killed by the recent storm were on the far eastern island of Samar, where Hagupit, the Filipino word for 'lash', initially made landfall as a typhoon on the weekend.

Hagupit struck with winds of 210km an hour, marking it as the most powerful storm to hit the Philippines this year, causing widespread destruction.

It gradually weakened as it travelled west across the central Philippines, passing close to the capital of Manila on Monday night with only a fraction of the forecast torrential rain.

Having seen the disasters caused by Typhoon Haiyan, people moved to evacuation shelters willingly. 

In some areas of eastern Samar, aid agencies told Al Jazeera that 80 percent of sturdily-built homes were destroyed.

Despite evacuations, not everyone got out in time. Blocked roads and heavy rains prevented rescue teams to get in by air.

Al Jazeera's Andrew Thomas, reporting from the city of Batangas, some 80km south of Manila, said residents wait for the storm to pass. Winds had slowed down as the storm reached the western Philippines.

Thomas also reported the rain has been heavy for 24 hours and there's still more forecast to come. For most Filipinos, Hagupit was not as ferocious a storm as had been feared.

The Philippines endures about 20 major storms a year, with scientists blaming climate change for the growing number of violent and unpredictable storms.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies