Typhoon Sarika further weakens as Philippines braces for another storm

MANILA (Reuters) - A typhoon that barreled into northern Philippine provinces on Sunday has further weakened as it moved toward the South China Sea, but the local weather bureau said it was closely monitoring another storm that could enter the eastern boundary by Monday.

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Typhoon Sarika dumped heavy rains and unleashed strong winds on northern rice-growing regions, but there were no confirmed casualties, disaster officials said.

Weather forecasters said Typhoon Sarika was packing winds of up to 120 kph on Sunday afternoon as it moved out of the country.

As many as 2,552 families, or 12,496 individuals, had been pre-emptively evacuated before Sarika made landfall early on Sunday. Authorities were forced to cancel ferry services and as many as 160 domestic and international flights scheduled for the day.

Damage to farm crops, mostly rice and corn, was estimated at 53.5 million pesos ($1.1 million) initially, disaster officials said.

The weather bureau has lowered storm warning signals but said it was keeping a close watch on the next weather disturbance named Haima.

“It’s still far, out of the Philippine Area of Responsibility but it’s now in the level of a storm. Over time, while traveling over water, it gains strength so that’s our next concern,” said Ricardo Jalad, executive director at the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

Jalad said the damage from Typhoon Sarika was “not that serious” as initially expected, but there were reports of landslides and flooding in some areas. The strong winds ripped off the roof of some houses and uprooted trees, he said.

“We were focused in Baler but local officials were able to conduct pre-emptive evacuation so there was no casualty,” he said, referring to the town where the typhoon made landfall.

“Hopefully, there is indeed no casualty... Our monitoring is continuous.”

Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Clarence Fernandez