(Corrects third paragraph to say typhoon hit Albay province,
* Rammasun hits eastern Rapu-Rapu island, heads towards
* Strongest storm after last year's Haiyan
* Thousands evacuated from coastal villages
By Rosemarie Francisco
MANILA, July 15 Thousands of people in the
Philippines fled from their homes on Tuesday as the strongest
typhoon to hit the country this year made landfall, toppling
trees and cutting power as it made its way straight towards the
Parts of the Philippines are still recovering from Typhoon
Haiyan, one of the biggest cyclones known to have made landfall
anywhere, which killed more than 6,100 people last year, many in
tsunami-like sea surges, and left millions homeless.
Typhoon Rammasun, with gusts of up to 160 kph (99 mph) and
sustained winds of 130 kph (81 mph) near its centre, hit land
over Rapu-Rapu island in the eastern province of Albay, the
weather bureau said.
It is expected to cross the main Luzon island at 19 kph (12
mph), with the eye of the storm likely to be over the capital
before noon (0400 GMT) on Wednesday.
"The wind is very strong, we are really being battered,"
Joey Salceda, governor of coconut- and rice-growing Albay
province said in a television interview, adding he expected high
economic losses rather than casualties.
The province ordered the evacuation of low-lying and coastal
areas, as well as villages at risk of landslides.
Tropical Storm Risk upgraded Rammasun to a category-three
typhoon, on a scale of one to five of which five is the most
severe. It is expected to bring moderate to intense rainfall of
up to 20 mm per hour within its 500-km (300-mile) radius.
It is the strongest storm to threaten the country since
Haiyan, a category-five "super typhoon," wiped out nearly
everything in its path when it crossed over the central
Philippines in November.
Rammasun was expected to bring storm surges of up to three
metres (10 feet) in coastal villages, the weather bureau said.
The storm would be the first in about four years to score a
direct hit on Manila and storm surges were also likely in Manila
Disaster officials said at least 300,000 people had fled
from their homes in Albay province alone, and almost 6,000 ferry
passengers were stranded in ports after the coast guard
About 40 provinces, cities and municipalities on Luzon
island, including the capital, suspended all schools and
colleges. Thirty domestic and international flights were
cancelled, said Alexander Pama, head of the national disaster
Albay and Camarines Sur provinces declared a state of
calamity, officials said, which will allow the release of funds
for relief efforts.
President Benigno Aquino said the armed forces were on full
"I reiterate, the objective has to be: minimize the
casualties and the hardship of our people," Aquino said.
The storm will pass north of Eastern Samar and Leyte, the
provinces worst hit by Haiyan, where some residents are still
living in tents due to slow recovery efforts. Those areas may
see heavy rain and strong winds.
Governor Miguel Villafuerte of Camarines Sur said he had
asked the army to help with mandatory evacuations. But despite
all the warnings, many residents were reluctant to leave home.
"We are prepared for the worst," said 67-year-old Rosemarie
Poblete of Tobaco City in Albay, whose family of four lives near
a river swollen by heavy rain early on Tuesday.
"We bought extra food and candles and are ready for any
emergency," she told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Erik dela Cruz, Karen Lema, and
Siegfrid Alegado; Editing by Robert Birsel)