November 26, 2007 / 9:45 AM / 11 years ago

Typhoon hits northern Philippines, heads for Taiwan

(Adds air force fighter missing)

By Karen Lema

MANILA, Nov 26 (Reuters) - Typhoon Mitag swirlled out to sea on Monday after killing 8 people, destroying homes and flooding rice paddies in the Philippines.

Mitag, a category 1 typhoon with winds of 120 km per hour (74 mph) at its centre, lost strength as it made landfall late on Sunday and did not directly hit the central Bicol region, where nearly 300,000 people had been evacuated.

A Philippine air force fighter plane went missing in stormy weather near the western island of Palawan, where tropical depression Hagibis was headed after it made a dramatic U-turn over the South China Sea.

"We don’t know what really happened," Major-General Pedro Ike Inserto, air force vice commander, told Reuters. "We lost contact and we cannot say if it crashed or it landed elsewhere. We’ve sent a search team to locate the missing fighter."

Hagibis killed 14 people in the Philippines last week. It strengthened into a category 1 typhoon as it neared Vietnam before weakening.

Over the weekend, Mitag killed eight people in Bicol but the region, regularly hit by typhoons, was spared lethal landslides or mass flooding after Mitag veered north.

Two men were also reported missing, swept by the swollen river in Apayao province in the northern Philippines, disaster officials said.

In the northern province of Cagayan, Ronald Ayuyang, 39, said Mitag, a woman’s name pronounced Me-tok from Yap in the Pacific Ocean, was not as strong as previous storms.

"Last night, it was raining heavily but today we are only experiencing winds. Sometimes, we can see the sun," the father of two told Reuters. "Our neighbours are already cleaning their homes, sweeping broken branches and twigs."

Taiwan issued a warning on Monday for large waves, torrential rain and high winds as Mitag rumbled south of its coastline.

"Waves in the oceans around Taiwan are extremely big," the bureau said in a statement. "Ocean travellers and boats working at sea should be especially careful."

Mitag was not expected to make landfall as a typhoon in Taiwan, but it might come ashore as a lower-level tropical storm in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, on Tuesday, according to British typhoon tracking Web site Tropical Storm Risk (www.tropicalstormrisk.com/).

INUNDATED FARMS

In the central province of Albay, where the sun was shining on Monday, tens of thousands of people were allowed to leave makeshift shelters in churches, schools and townhalls as Mitag headed out to sea.

Disaster officials said Mitag flooded wide areas in the northern and central Philippines, destroying more than 100 million pesos ($2.3 million) worth of agricultural production, half of them ricefields in Isabela and Cagayan provinces.

Agriculture officials said the rice farms were about one to two weeks from harvest but were threatened by rain-swollen rivers.

Disaster officials said they were monitoring the progress of Hagibis, which means "rapidity" in the Philippines’ Tagalog language, but no new evacuations have been ordered.

The Philippine weather bureau said it was also monitoring another weather system in the Pacific Ocean that might hit the country later this week.

Storms regularly batter the Philippines and this year the central government in Manila ordered pre-emptive evacuations to try to avoid a repeat of last year’s devastating Typhoon Durian, which killed 1,200 and left 120,000 homeless when it crashed through Bicol in December. (Additional reporting by Ralph Jennings in Taipei; writing by Carmel Crimmins; editing by David Fogarty)



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