Typhoon Bopha, the strongest tropical storm to hit the Philippines this year, has slammed into a southern island, killing at least 95 people, destroying homes, cutting power and forcing the cancellation of flights and ferry services, officials say.
The state weather service said Bopha made landfall on Mindanao island’s east coast at dawn on Tuesday, raking across the island of 10 million people, packing gusts of up to 210km an hour and bringing heavy rain.
Earlier, local media put the death toll at 40, but the national disaster office has revised it to at least 77.
Aviation and shipping were suspended, with 80 flights grounded and thousands of ferry passengers stranded at ports as the coastguard ordered vessels to stay in port, the civil defence office said.
Power has been cut off in at least eight municipalities in southern Surigao del Sur and Davao Oriental while parts of Agusan del Sur province are flooded, Civil Defence chief Benito Ramos said.
More than 57,000 people had moved into nearly 1,000 government shelters across the island by early Tuesday, the Civil Defence in its latest bulletin.
The commercial centre of Cagayan de Oro, one of Mindanao’s largest cities, was hit by flooding as rivers overflowed following heavy rain. By late evening, the storm had passed mainland Mindanao and was headed across the sea towards Palawan, Al Jazeera’s Marga Ortigas reported.
School holidays were declared in Mindanao and large areas of the central Philippines.
‘No laughing matter’
President Benigno Aquino led calls for evacuations on Monday, saying: “[Bopha’s] destructive potential is no laughing matter. It is expected to be the strongest typhoon to hit our country in 2012.”
The Philippines president said army troops were deploying search and rescue boats in advance and villagers were being pre-emptively evacuated.
Reporting from Cagayan de Oro, where the government had moved people into shelters two or three days ahead of the storm to prevent casualties, Ortigas said: “Already the government is saying they are much better prepared this year than the previous year”.
Residents in a riverside village in the southern city moved to a government hall, carrying TV sets, bundles of clothes and a pig.
“We have suffered enough,” local resident Felicitas Cabusao said, clutching a Holy Rosary beside her crying 12-year-old daughter.
Bopha, a Cambodian word for flower or a girl, is the 16th weather disturbance to hit the Philippines this year, less than the 20 typhoons and storms that normally lash the archipelago annually. Forecasters say at least one more storm may hit the country before Christmas.