Super typhoon hits Philippines
MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines declared a state of calamity in a northern province after super typhoon Megi made landfall on Monday, cutting off power, forcing flight cancellations and putting the region's rice crop at risk.
Megi, the 10th and strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year, hit Isabela province at 11:25 a.m. (4:25 a.m. British time) and was heading west-southwest across the north of the main island of Luzon with winds of 190 kph (117 mph) near the centre, forecasters said.
Tropical Storm Risk (www.tropicalstormrisk.com) said Megi, known locally as Juan, was a category 5 super typhoon, the highest rating, with winds of more than 250 kph (155 mph).
The weather bureau said the typhoon had weakened and slowed down after it slammed into mountains in northwest Luzon late in the morning.
Lieutenant-General Gaudencio Pangilinan, head of the military in northern Luzon, said the typhoon's fury was felt in Cagayan and Isabela provinces, where trees were uprooted and roofs of houses blown away.
"There's almost zero visibility in some areas due to heavy rain and strong wind," Pangilinan told Reuters by phone. "We expect extensive damage on property and agriculture. We're still validating reports from the field."
The typhoon is expected to clear Luzon island on Monday night, and head across the South China Sea towards China and possibly Vietnam, which is already suffering from floods.
RICE AT RISK
Andrew Villacorta, regional executive director in the agriculture department, said Luzon's Cagayan valley accounted for 12 percent of national rice output, or about 1 million tonnes of unmilled rice, lower than earlier estimates from local officials.
"Isabela and Cagayan are expected to be hit hard," Villacorta said. "Our estimates showed about 159,000 metric tonnes will be lost from Isabela. About 88,000 hectares will be affected. In Cagayan province, about 43,000 hectares will be affected. The estimated loss will be around 63,000 metric tonnes."
He said just over one third of the crop had been harvested, while about 90 percent of the corn crop had been harvested. Last year, the country lost 1.3 million tonnes of paddy rice following three strong typhoons in September and October, prompting it to go to the market early to boost its stocks.
"This could bring destruction to our crops," Val Perdido, a regional farm official, told reporters.
"It's the peak of harvest season now. More than 230,000 hectares of rice fields are still in their reproductive and maturing stages,"
Agricultural production makes up a fifth of the Southeast Asian country's GDP.
Local officials in Isabela province declared a state of calamity to ensure food and energy supply and spend more on rescue, relief and rehabilitation work after the typhoon leaves, officials at the disaster agency said.
Officials said the U.S. military, holding a nine-day drill with Filipino counterparts, had offered seven helicopters to deliver relief goods and rescue marooned residents if needed.
After clearing the Philippines, Megi will head out into the South China Sea. Tropical Storm Risk's projections show the storm is expect to turn away from Vietnam towards China, with Hainan island and Hong Kong both it the potential impact area.
China's National Meterological Centre said Megi may be the worst to hit the country this year, and urged local governments to make full preparations for extreme weather.
Some 140,000 people have been evacuated from 15 cities on Hainan island since heavy rains reached the province on Friday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday.
Severe flooding in central Vietnam has killed 31 people, left several missing and inundated scores of communities in recent days, state television reported on Monday.
(Additional reporting by Eric dela Cruz in Manila and John Ruwitch in Hanoi; Editing by John Mair and David Fox)
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