Typhoon Utor sweeps into Philippines

A typhoon swept into the central Philippines on Saturday, a day after it forced the government to hastily shelve a gathering of Asian leaders on a resort island south of the storm’s projected path.

Typhoon Utor is the second storm to batter the archipelago in as many weeks and brought gusts of up to 150kph and heavy rain to the island of Samar, about 600km south-east of Manila.

Utor was upgraded from a tropical storm to a Category-One Typhoon, with five being the maximum, earlier on Saturday.

Authorities advised residents in parts of the northern region of Luzon, the central Visayas islands and Mindanao in the south to seek higher ground to avoid flash floods and big waves.

A disaster official in Albay province, which bore the brunt of last week’s Typhoon Durian, said about 20 000 people had already been evacuated from communities encircling Mount Mayon, an active volcano 320km south of the capital.

Durian, which was one notch below a Category-Five “super typhoon”, obliterated some villages around Mount Mayon after fierce wind and rain sent tonnes of mud and walls of water crashing down the mountain. Hundreds of people died and hundreds more are still missing.

On Friday, the Philippines postponed an annual summit of 16 Asian leaders until early January due to concerns the new typhoon could wreak havoc at the venue on the central island of Cebu.

Presidents and prime ministers from 16 countries were due to start arriving on Cebu and nearby Mactan Island on Saturday for the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meeting and an East Asia summit on December 11 to 13.

Philippine officials insisted that the surprise move was unrelated to warnings from the United States, British and Australian governments that terrorists were planning to bomb the gathering.

“Our organisers were pretty worried over the possible effects of the typhoon on the meeting venues,” a Philippine foreign ministry official in Cebu said.

“Makeshift structures were put up for the gala dinner and some expressed concerns the typhoon may blow away the tents.”

Trade and foreign ministers from across the region also halted talks, which were meant to be held in overcast and rainy Cebu on Saturday, and headed instead for the airport.

Only four foreign ministers—from Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand—attended Saturday’s breakfast meeting.

Two other typhoons, Cimaron and Chebi, hit the country in late October and early November, causing landslides and flashfloods in some areas and massive damage to property.

Storms regularly hit the Philippines. In one of the worst disasters in recent years, more than 5 000 people died on the central island of Leyte in 1991 in floods triggered by a typhoon.
- Reuters

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