MANILA (Reuters) - The year’s most powerful typhoon slammed into the Philippines’ northernmost islands on Saturday, cutting communication and power lines, triggering landslides and inundating rice fields, officials said.
Packing winds of 185 kph (114 mph) near the center and gusts of up to 220 kph, Typhoon Usagi weakened after hitting the Batanes island group, and is moving slowly west-northwest at 19 kph towards southern China, the weather bureau said.
Usagi, which has been labeled a super typhoon, made landfall on Itbayat, the Philippine island closest to Taiwan, toppling communication and power lines, uprooting trees, causing landslides and flooding rice and garlic farms.
“It’s rare that we suffer casualties as a result of typhoons,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, a former congressman for Batanes, told Reuters, saying the province had not experienced a powerful typhoon in 25 years.
“A flash flood occurred and trees were uprooted from the mountain and swept by roiling waters to the town. Many houses lost their roofs or were destroyed. Damage to crops is heavy and landslides were reported all around.”
Sea and air travel have been suspended since Friday, with fishermen urged to bring their boats in due to strong winds and giant waves. Emergency workers were sent to the rescue of affected households in the province of nearly 16,000 people.
About 20 typhoons hit the Philippines each year, on average. In 2011, Typhoon Washi killed 1,200 people, destroyed more than 10,000 homes and displaced 200,000 people.
Bopha, the strongest storm to hit in 2012, flattened three coastal towns on the southern island of Mindanao, killing 1,100 people and destroying crops, property and infrastructure worth more than $1 billion.
Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Clarence Fernandez