Thousands Evacuated as the Philippines, Vietnam Brace for Powerful Typhoons

Friday, November 23rd 2007, 5:37 am
By: News On 6

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- Officials stepped up the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people from coastal villages and riversides Friday as two powerful typhoons barreled toward Vietnam and the Philippines.

Typhoon Mitag gained strength Friday, packing 109 mph winds and gusts of 131 mph as it headed for the island province of Catanduanes in the Philippines, chief government forecaster Nathaniel Cruz said. It was expected to slam ashore Saturday.

Philippine disaster officials said more than 194,000 people have fled or been evacuated to temporary shelters in provinces on the southern tip of the main Philippine island of Luzon.

``There is a strong possibility of storm surges,'' Cruz said, noting that while still at sea, Mitag could intensify into a ``super typhoon'' with winds topping 138 mph.

In Vietnam, officials began evacuating 200,000 people as Typhoon Hagibis headed for the country after leaving 13 people dead in the Philippines earlier this week.

Hagibis was packing 83 mph winds and was expected to make landfall Saturday. It would be the seventh major storm to hit the country this season.

In the South China Sea, which separates Vietnam, the Philippines and China, 25 Filipino sailors were missing after their fishing boat capsized in rough seas, a Chinese maritime official said. Thirty other crew members were rescued and search teams were dispatched to look for the missing, said a man at the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center who gave only his surname, Zhang.

In the Philippines, Catanduanes Gov. Joseph Cua, reached by cell phone in the capital of Virac, said constant rains had triggered landslides, blocking the main highway and isolating six northern towns. The main Bato river also was rising, he said.

He has directed the mayor of one isolated town to distribute about 800 sacks of rice from a government warehouse in case food runs short while the town is inaccessible.

Several flights to the region from Manila were canceled.

In Manila, workers started rolling up giant roadside tarpaulin billboards on steel frames to prevent them from being blown down by strong winds.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered mass evacuations along the typhoon's expected path. She cut short her visit to Singapore, where she was attending an Asian summit.

Cruz, the weather forecaster, said after slamming into Catanduanes, the typhoon could veer slightly southwest and hit Albay province, which bore the brunt of last year's Typhoon Durian. That typhoon triggered flash floods and unleashed tons of debris, killing more than 1,000 people.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda has suspended classes so some schools can be used as shelters. The provincial government mobilized military and police trucks to transport residents to evacuation centers.

``The order of the president is zero casualty,'' he told DZRH radio Friday. ``We are ordering the evacuation of the eastern seaboard.''