MANILA - A powerful typhoon slammed into the northeastern Philippines on Saturday, killing four people, tearing roofs off houses and uprooting trees, but damage and flooding was much less than expected.
Typhoon Parma, the strongest typhoon to hit the country since 2006, made landfall in the northeastern tip of the remote Cagayan province. The weather bureau said the storm would be back over the sea by early on Sunday.
The system brought rain across the main island of Luzon but not as heavy as feared, especially along the densely populated west coast where floods in and around Manila from Typhoon Ketsana seven days ago killed nearly 300 people.
Officials had feared rain would spark fresh floods in Manila since reservoirs and dams around the capital are full and the sewage system is inundated with mud and rubbish brought by last week's deluge.
Our relief work slowed down because we placed our troops on standby for possible rescue operations in case of floods, said Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres, spokesman of the national disaster agency.
But the typhoon was hardly felt here.
A storm signal posted for the capital region overnight was lifted, but officials warned nearly half a million people living in shelters after their homes were flooded last week to stay put.
There is still a risk of rain, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said on national television. We ask the evacuees to stay one more night in evacuation centres.
Authorities in Taiwan issued a warning to mariners as Parma was likely to enter its southern waters in the next few days.
FALLEN TREES, CHAINSAWS
Fallen trees and floods cut off roads in Cagayan and neighbouring Isabela province. Soldiers, on rubber boats and armed with chain saws, started to clear roads and rescue marooned communities, officials said.
So many trees have been uprooted, blocking roads, regional police chief Robert Damian told reporters. Galvanised iron sheets from houses are flying all over and power and communications are also down.
Some areas had been flooded, and four people were reported killed, officials said.
Arroyo declared a nationwide calamity on Friday to allow local governments to access emergency funds and cap the prices of essential goods. She also ordered troops to evacuate over 100,000 people from areas at risk from the typhoon.
Officials said some 5.5 billion pesos ($115 million) in crops, mostly rice about to be harvested, were damaged by Ketsana last week. The damage to bridges and roads was estimated at 1.6 billion pesos.
The Asia-Pacific region has been hit by a series of natural disasters, including Ketsana that killed more than 400 in the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
Tens of thousands also were displaced in southern Laos and flash floods were reported in northern Thailand.
Two powerful earthquakes rocked the Indonesian island of Sumatra, with the death toll likely to be in the thousands, and a tsunami battered American and Western Samoa, killing nearly 150.
In the Philippines, Arroyo ordered a one-year deferment in repayment of loans provided by state pension funds, part of liquidity-boosting measures to protect the economy following the massive typhoon devastation.
She said she would ask the central bank to set up a five-year special rediscounting window to help lenders refinance loans to small and medium-scale businesses, a proposal the central bank said it would study.
(Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco and Manolo Serapio Jr. in MANILA and Lee Chyen Yee in TAIPEI)
(Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Michael Roddy)