Typhoon Koppu weakens but still dangerous in Philippines

MANILA:  Slow-moving Typhoon Koppu weakened Sunday after blowing ashore with fierce wind in the northeastern Philippines, toppling trees and knocking out power and communications. Officials said there were no immediate reports of casualties.

More than 14,000 villagers have been evacuated from the typhoon's path, including in towns prone to flash floods and landslides and coastal villages at risk from destructive storm surges, said Alexander Pama, who heads the disaster-response agency that has overseen evacuation and pre-deployment of rescue contingents.

After slamming into Casiguran town in Aurora province shortly after midnight, the typhoon weakened slightly and slowed considerably, hemmed in by the Sierra Madre mountain range and a high pressure area in the country's north and another typhoon far out in the Pacific in the east, government forecaster Gladys Saludes said.

By mid-Sunday, the typhoon had blown westward and further inland and was whirling over rice-growing Nueva Ecija province east of Aurora with sustained winds of 150 kilometers (93 miles) and gusts of up to 185 kph (115 mph). Satellite images show that the typhoon appeared to be losing its eye, a sign of its dissipating strength, according to acting weather bureau chief Esperanza Cayanan.

In the afternoon, the storm slightly picked up speed and was shifting from a westward course to one veering toward the north at a still slow pace of 5 kilometers per hour (3mph), she said.

While weather had begun to improve in some Aurora towns, where villagers have started to clear roads of fallen trees and debris, Koppu still packed a ferocity that could set off landslides and flash floods, officials said.

"It's still typhoon intensity ... there's still danger," Cayanan told a nationally-televised news conference. "We shouldn't be complacent."

Pama urged authorities to forcefully evacuate villagers in landslide- and flood-prone mountain villages in Koppu's path in the north, adding that the typhoon was forecast to exit from the main Luzon island by Wednesday if it would move at its current pace.

President Benigno Aquino III and disaster-response agencies have warned that Koppu's rain and wind may potentially bring more damage with its slow speed. But Saludes said there was less heavy rain than expected initially in some areas, including in the capital, Manila, but wind was fierce in many regions.

A wayward barge carrying coal and 10 crew drifted dangerously close to a breakwater in Manila Bay and a coast guard tugboat was deployed to tow it away, coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said.

Forecasters said the typhoon has a cloud band of 600 kilometers (372 miles) and could dump rain over much of the main northern island of Luzon.

Appearing on nationwide television as the typhoon approached the country, Aquino appealed to the public to heed storm warnings to avoid casualties. Due to the expected massive evacuation of residents from high-risk regions, about 7.5 million people would need relief assistance, he said.

Koppu, Japanese for "cup," is the 12th storm to hit the Philippines this year. An average of 20 storms and typhoon each year batter the archipelago, one of the world's most disaster-prone countries.

In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most ferocious storms on record to hit land, barreled through the central Philippines, leveling entire towns and leaving more than 7,300 dead or missing.