MANILA, Philippines – Typhoon Mitag roared closer Sunday to the northeastern Philippines, causing floods that killed at least six people while a deadly storm that blew away days earlier headed back, complicating emergency preparations across the country.
Five people drowned and another was electrocuted over the weekend due to floods set off by Mitag, which was powering over the Philippine Sea toward the eastern coast of the country's main island of Luzon, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said.
The deaths occurred in Camarines Sur province, southeast of Manila. Hospitals in areas at risk were ordered to stay open 24 hours, Duque said.
Mitag, with sustained winds of 160 kph (99 mph) and gusts of 195 kph (121 mph), was expected to slam into the coast of northern Isabela province before dawn Monday.
Approaching at 15 kph (9 mph), it was forecast to then blow across the mountainous north before exiting into the South China Sea on Wednesday, government forecaster Frisco Nilo said.
Mitag has been the most erratic of the 13 typhoons and major storms that have hit the Philippines this year. It first headed for the populous Bicol region, where more than 250,000 people were evacuated, but shifted Saturday to a new northerly course, Nilo said.
As authorities scrambled to shift evacuation efforts and emergency preparations to Mitag's new target areas in the northern provinces of Isabela, Aurora and Cagayan, forecasters said a typhoon that killed 13 people in the Philippines last week before heading for Vietnam had reversed direction and was moving back toward the central Philippines.
Hagibis, which weakened to a tropical storm Friday, was expected to lash the western Philippine province of Palawan on Tuesday, Nilo said.
Disaster-response agencies, along with troops and police officers, were ordered to brace again for Hagibis, a Philippine name for rapidly galloping animals, Nilo said.
Mitag and Hagibis were influencing each other, resulting in their erratic movements, he said. Government forecasters were also monitoring a new low-pressure area that could develop into a storm over the Pacific Ocean and affect the Philippines in a few days, Nilo said.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's Cabinet and relief agency officials went on national TV four times to explain emergency preparations.
Thousands of villagers in low-lying and coastal areas, as well as those living near mountains, have begun evacuating to government-run shelters. Food packs and medicine have been stockpiled for displaced residents, and air force helicopters were on standby for rescue missions, officials said.
Authorities partly opened a major dam on Luzon to help cope with expected heavy rains, Nilo said.
"We're ready. We're expanding preparedness measures. These typhoons are moving slowly so they could dump a lot of rain," said Glen Rabonza, administrator of the Office of Civil Defense.
Chief government forecaster Nathaniel Cruz appealed to villagers in dangerous areas to heed orders to evacuate.
"If people could see the satellite imagery that we monitor, they would realize we're not joking," Cruz said.
The Philippine military declared a unilateral cease-fire with communist rebels on Luzon and the central Philippines over the weekend to allow troops to focus on disaster preparedness.
Army troops, however, encountered about 40 communist guerrillas while on patrol Sunday in Mindoro Occidental province south of Manila and killed a rebel commander, the army said. Troops can fire back anytime if threatened, the army said.
Coast guard spokesman Lt. Armand Balilo said Filipino and Chinese authorities were still searching for 26 Filipino fishermen whose boat capsized in the South China Sea on Friday.
High winds and waves were hampering efforts by China's navy to supply food and fresh water to fishing vessels sheltering near Chinese-controlled islands in the South China Sea, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
It said about 300 Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipino fishermen had taken shelter near Nansha island in the Spratlys, a group of islands claimed by various governments in the region.