The first typhoon of the year smashed into the Philippines on Wednesday with wind gusts up to 185 kilometres per hour, killing at least 10 people and bringing down electric poles and ripping roofs off houses.
But Manila, a low lying city of 12 million people, was spared the worst of Typhoon Rammasun as the swirling storm changed direction slightly, moving south of the city.
Eariler it had cut a swath across the main island of Luzon, toppling trees and power lines and causing electrocutions and widespread blackouts hours earlier.
Authorities, expecting storm surges up to two metres, evacuated more than 370,000 people from low lying homes, and closed financial markets, government offices and schools.
Widespread flooding is expected in the wake of the storm, the first since last November's super Typhoon Haiyan that left at least 12,268 people dead and millions homeless, mostly on the islands of Leyte and Samar.The Philippines receives more than 20 typhoons each year.
Typhoon Rammasun, also called Glenda, was dumping up to 30 millimetres of rain an hour within its 500-kilometre radius. The storm pummeled Bataan province and then headed out to the South China Sea before it was expected to intensify and move towards southern China.
Rescue crews were seen clearing toppled trees on Manila's almost deserted streets. People were told to stay indoors. There were reports of flooding and landslides outside the capital.
"The wind is very strong, stronger than the rains. It's something I've never experienced in the past," said Mark Leviste, vice-governor of Batangas province south of Manila.
Australian-based organisations such as Save the Children and Plan International deployed people to assist recovery after the storm passed.
"We know from more than 50 years of experience working in the Philippines that when disasters hit, they always hit the most vulnerable the hardest," said Marco Savio, Plan International's acting country director in the Philippines.
"Children are always badly affected by disasters like this, so we always work to ensure that girls, boys and their caregivers are prioritised for immediate assistance," he said.
Government offices, financial markets and schools closed for the day.
Major roads across Luzon were blocked by debris, fallen trees, electricity poles and tin roofs ripped off village houses. The storm uprooted trees in the capital where palm trees lining major arteries were bent over by the wind as broken hoardings bounced down the streets.
Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson and Admiral Alexander Pama, the executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, surveyed the typhoon-affected areas by helicopter.
"I am happily surprised because of the minimal casualties and damage," Singson said, adding the typhoon had passed through the most populated area of the country, with about 17 million people living in its path.
Singson and Pama said the government was more prepared this time, after the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan in November, evacuating people at risk in coastal and landslide-prone areas well before the typhoon made landfall.
Parts of the Philippines are still recovering from Haiyan, one of the biggest cyclones known to have made landfall anywhere.
Tropical Storm Risk, which monitors cyclones, downgraded Rammasun to a category-one storm on a scale of one to five as it headed northwest into the South China Sea. Haiyan was category five. A category-one storm has maximum sustained winds of 153 km/h
But it predicted Rammasun would gain in strength to a category-three storm within a couple of days, picking up energy from the warm sea as it heads for the Chinese island of Hainan.
TACLOBAN HIT AGAIN
Typhoon Rammasun brought storm surges to Manila Bay and prompted disaster officials to evacuate slum-dwellers on the capital's outskirts.
More than half of Luzon was without power, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla told reporters. Manila Electric Company, the country's biggest power utility exclusively supplying to the capital, said around 86 per cent of its customers were without electricity.
Rhea Catada, who works for Oxfam in Tacloban, which suffered the brunt of Haiyan, said thousands of people in tents and coastal villages had been evacuated to higher ground.
"They are scared because their experiences during Haiyan last year are still fresh," she said. "Now they are evacuating voluntarily and leaving behind their belongings."
Social Work Secretary Dinky Soliman said 5335 families, or nearly 27,000 people, had been "affected" by the storm in Tacloban. Some had returned to the Astrodome, where thousands sought shelter and dozens drowned during storm surges in the November disaster.
A 25-year-old woman was killed when she was hit by a falling electricity pole as Rammasun hit the east coast on Tuesday, the Philippine disaster agency said. A pregnant woman was killed when a house wall collapsed in Lucena City in Quezon province south of the capital.
Nearly 400 flights were grounded during a four-hour closure of Manila airport. Two airliners suffered minor damage when gusts blew them into nearby obstacles, airport officials said.
Train services in the capital remained suspended because of the lack of power. Ferry services were to resume later in the day, including to the holiday island of Boracay where 300 tourists were stranded.
Schools, public offices and financial markets will reopen on Thursday.
- Sydney Morning Herald, Reuters