Millions of people in the Philippines endured a second sweltering day without power on Thursday after a ferocious typhoon paralysed the capital and wrecked flimsy rural homes, claiming at least 40 lives.
Utility crews scrambled to repair thousands of toppled power pylons as well as transmission lines as the death toll from Typhoon Rammasun, the first major storm of the Southeast Asian archipelago’s rainy season, inched up.
“It will take two weeks for power to normalise to pre-typhoon level for everyone,” Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla told reporters, conceding that progress in restoration work was slow.
Meanwhile the authorities expressed frustration amid signs many of those who died had ignored government warnings about the dangers posed by the typhoon, one of 20 forecast to hit the Asian archipelago this year.
“We still have to find out what exactly are the reasons a lot of our countrymen refuse to heed the warnings,” National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council chief Alexander Pama told reporters.
As part of a “zero casualty” effort, the government evacuated nearly 400,000 people from the path of Rammasun and warned others to stay indoors.
But most of the people who died were outdoors, killed by falling trees, collapsing buildings and flying debris, according to the council’s data.
Pama said the death toll could rise further, with mobile phone and other forms of communication still cut to some rural areas. He said at least eight people remained missing.
The latest two people reported to have died were a woman whose shanty home was blown away, while a man earlier reported as missing had been found dead, Pama’s department said.
Rammasun, a Thai word for “Thunder God”, swept in off the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday night, bringing wind gusts of up to 160 kilometres (100 miles) an hour across land to Manila and other heavily populated northern regions.
The Philippines is often the first major landmass to be struck after storms build above the warm Pacific waters.
“It really scrambled whole towns, blowing down houses and toppling power lines,” the chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, Richard Gordon, told AFP.
The typhoon destroyed or damaged 26,000 homes, while cutting electricity supplies to nearly all of Manila, a megacity of more than 12 million people, and surrounding urban areas.
The stock exchange and government offices re-opened on Thursday, a day after being shut down by high winds, but many schools remained closed partly because of the power problems.
– Misery without power –
Utility officials said 1.8 million households in Manila and nearby areas still did not have power on Thursday afternoon as temperatures hit 33 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit), with repair crews hampered by fallen trees, branches and electrical posts.
Manila’s power distributor said it did not expect to have power fully restored to the humid capital and surrounding areas until late Friday.
Manila office worker Karen Luna said her family spent a miserable night at home in Bacoor town adjacent to the capital with no power or tap water.
“At first light I ordered my child to fetch water, so I was able to bathe before going off to work, using half a pail,” Luna told AFP.
The neighbourhood used candles overnight Wednesday while food was eaten quickly so it would not go off in the warming refrigerator, she added.
Rammasun was the first typhoon to make landfall since this year’s rainy season began in June, and the first major storm since Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the eastern islands of Samar and Leyte in November last year.
Haiyan killed up to 7,300 people in one of the Philippines’ worst natural disasters, but this week’s typhoon followed a different track.
Rammasun was on Thursday in the South China Sea and tracking towards the southern Chinese island of Hainan, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.
It forecast Rammasun to build strength again and hit Hainan with wind gusts of 222 kilometres an hour on Friday afternoon.