Philippine death toll climbs even as typhoon weakens

Philippine death toll climbs even as typhoon weakens

MANILA - The death toll from Typhoon Hagupit rose to 21 yesterday, the Philippine Red Cross said, after the storm tore through the country's central islands, flattening homes and toppling trees and power lines.

The capital Manila shut down as Hagupit, now downgraded to a tropical storm, took aim at the tip of the main island Luzon, just south of the city of 12 million people.

"We have confirmed reports that 21 people died in Eastern Samar, 16 of them in Borongan," said Gwendolyn Pang, secretary-general of the Philippine Red Cross. Most of those killed had drowned in flood waters, she said.

But despite the jump in the number of fatalities reported, there was relief that Hagupit had not brought destruction on the scale of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which killed thousands of people in the same parts of the central Philippines last year.

Last evening, it was on course to cross Manila Bay about 50km west of the city.

Financial markets, schools and some public offices in the capital were closed, and people in low-lying areas and near waterways were moved to shelters, as were millions in other parts of the country. Soldiers and emergency workers have been put on standby to respond to contingencies.

Despite the relief that Hagupit was not as devastating as had been feared, a major operation remains to clear debris and get supplies to the people left homeless or without power.

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