Typhoon wreaks havoc in Philippines

More than 20 people died and another 40 were missing today after the Philippines was lashed by the first typhoon of the season.

More than half of the main northern island of Luzon, which includes the capital Manila, was without electricity, and it was expected to take two to three days to restore power.

Several dozen flights were cancelled, and schools and many government offices closed. High winds felled trees and floods were knee-deep floods in some communities in the capital.

Heavy rains, unrelated to the typhoon, have also wreaked havoc in China and Japan. The death toll from rain-triggered landslides rose to 41 in western China, and workers raced to drain overflowing reservoirs in the southeast. Flooding has killed more than 100 people in China so far this month, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Storms in southern and western Japan left one dead and three missing. A woman drowned in a swollen river, and two women in their 70s were among the missing, according to police. Nearly 10,000 homes were evacuated.

More rain was predicted into in both Japan and China.

In the Philippines, many died while fleeing the typhoon. The victims were over six provinces and a city, mostly near Manila.

Newly elected President Benigno Aquino III criticised the weather bureau for failing to predict that the storm would hit Manila.

The Philippines is hit by about 20 typhoons and storms a year, gaining a reputation as the welcome mat for the most destructive cyclones from the Pacific. Last year, back-to-back typhoons inundated Manila and outlying provinces, killing nearly 1,000 people.

Typhoon Conson came ashore on the east coast of Luzon last night with winds of 75mph. It weakened to a tropical storm as it crossed the rice-growing island and buffeted Manila on Luzon's west coast for two hours.

The storm then headed out to the South China Sea before dawn and is expected to make landfall again later this week in China, west of Macau.

Several people were killed by falling debris or electrocuted. One man drowned trying to save a dozen pigs in a swollen lake south of Manila, while his companion was swept away and is missing.

In Quezon province four fishermen drowned and 18 others were rescued after huge waves and strong winds battered their boats as they raced toward an island to seek shelter.

Workers rushed to fix damaged power lines which left more than half of the main northern island without electricity.

The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines said it would take two to three days to return to normal, with Manila getting only half its needs and hotels and shopping centres running their own generators.

Conson moved into the South China Sea and was projected to make another landfall on the Chinese mainland west of Macau later this week.

Among the fatalities were a woman and her daughter, who were hit by a falling tree in Cavite province's Trece Martires city south of Manila, regional disaster operations officer Fred Bragas said.

Provincial spokesman Filomeno Maligaya told DZBB radio that another child drowned after falling into a raging river.

A 12-year-old girl and her four-year-old brother were also killed when a large mango tree crashed into their home as they were sleeping in nearby Batangas province, Mr Bragas said.

A 47-year-old woman was electrocuted by a power line which snapped at the height of the typhoon, he added.

In coastal Camarines Norte province, south-east of Manila, at least three people were killed, said Maj Cabunoc. He gave no details.

The national disaster council reported that some communities in Manila were flooded by knee-deep water. Up to 3,100 people were stranded in ports waiting for the weather to clear.

Despite preparations by disaster relief agencies to avoid the repetition of last year's tragedy when nearly 1,000 people were killed in typhoon-triggered floods in and around Manila, newly elected President Benigno Aquino III condemned the weather bureau for failing to predict that the storm would hit the capital.

"I hope this is the last time we are all brought to areas different from where we should be," he told officials during a meeting of the National Disaster Co-ordinating Council, noting that government agencies were relying on the weather bureau for their preparations.

Weather bureau chief Prisco Nilo explained that it takes forecasters six hours to update weather bulletins in making predictions. The weather bureau has complained of lack of funding and equipment.

The Manila International Airport Authority said 63 flights, including four international services, had been cancelled and nine diverted to the central Philippine international airport since late yesterday.

Classes were suspended in grade and high schools and most universities in Manila.

Several government offices, including the Senate, also suspended work due to the power outage. Thousands of commuters were stranded when the blackouts disrupted train services.

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