Huge Waves Inundate Philippines' Western Coasts As Storm Hits; Thousands Flee

Wednesday, November 28th 2007, 5:13 am
By: News On 6

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Big storm waves battered provinces along the Philippines' western coast, sending more than 8,000 people fleeing, some falsely thinking there was a tsunami, and killing at least three people, officials said Wednesday.

High waves flipped over two boats in Taal Lake, south of Manila, leaving at least three people dead and six others missing, regional disaster response official Tomas Ortega said. About 30 other passengers, who were returning from a festival, were rescued, he said.

The waves sporadically battered coastal villages from the country's mountainous north to the southern island of Jolo, creating flash floods by pushing sea water into low-lying areas, officials said.

Along the western coast of the main northern island of Luzon _ which was jolted by a magnitude 6 earthquake about noon Tuesday _ more than 5,500 people fled to government emergency shelters and other safe areas after waves swamped their communities, said Armando Duque, head of the regional Office of Civil Defense.

In the coastal town of Bolinao in northern Pangasinan province, many villagers feared the earthquake had triggered a tsunami. Authorities immediately explained over radio stations that large waves in the area came from stormy weather at sea, Duque said.

Many were puzzled by the waves because Typhoon Mitag, which lashed the northern Philippines on Monday, had weakened into a storm and then blown out of the country toward southern Japan, causing the weather to improve.

The death toll from Typhoon Mitag and a tropical depression rose to 22 with one injured and eight missing, disaster officials said.

In the southern coastal village of Sinunuc, dozens of families fled after waves hit their wooden huts on stilts, sweeping several away and injuring some residents. More than 2,500 people fled from southern coastal areas, and at least 250 huts were destroyed.

``The waves suddenly hit our hut and brought down a wall. We ran for our lives,'' said Sinunuc resident Elmer Abubakar. He said his hut was destroyed, along with others nearby.

Coast guard authorities halted all boat trips from southern Zamboanga city to nearby Jolo island because of the huge waves.

Chief government forecaster Nathaniel Cruz said the waves generated in the South China Sea by a second storm, Hagibis, took some time to reach western coastal areas. Some were pushed by lingering strong winds and slammed ashore during high tide, Cruz said.