San Juan, Philippines – Typhoon Hagupit weakened into a tropical storm Monday after leaving at least 21 people dead and forcing more than a million people into shelters. But it spared most of a central Philippine region still reeling from last year's monster Typhoon Haiyan that left thousands dead.
The sun peeked out over the central island provinces Monday, but Manila and nearby provinces braced for high winds as Hagupit made landfall on the resort town of San Juan in Batangas province, about 60 miles south of the Philippine capital. It had maximum sustained winds of 53 miles per hour and gusts of 62 mph.
Although considerably weaker, the storm remained potentially dangerous and could still generate storm surges that could overwhelm coastal villages, forecasters said.
More than 2,000 villagers huddled in the safety of a public gymnasium as torrential rains pounded San Juan, a low-lying and flood-prone town locally popular for its beach resorts.
"It's really scary if you've watched what happened during Haiyan," said Amy de Guzman, a 43-year-old mother of three. "I hope the storm blows away from here as far as possible."
While officials expressed relief that the typhoon had not caused major damage in Tacloban and other cities that were devastated by Haiyan, they warned that it was still on course to barrel into the southern tip of the main northern island of Luzon where Manila is located, before starting to blow away Tuesday into the South China Sea.
Hagupit (pronounced HA'-goo-pit), which first made landfall in Eastern Samar late Saturday, was moving slowly at 6 mph and could dump heavy rain that could possibly trigger landslides and flash floods, according to forecasters.
Many of those in eastern areas who evacuated to shelters started to troop back home after the typhoon had blown past their provinces, Philippine Red Cross Secretary-General Gwendolyn Pang said.
Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada said more than 5,000 residents of a shantytown on the edge of Manila Bay have been evacuated due to possible storm surges.
"We've prepared and trained for this," Estrada told The Associated Press, adding his greatest fear was widespread flooding. Metropolitan Manila has a population of more than 12 million people.
Like villagers in the central Philippines, Estrada said Manila residents were readily moving to safety because of haunting memories of Haiyan.
The strongest typhoon on record to hit land, Haiyan's tsunami-like storm surges, leveled entire villages and left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in November last year.
Hagupit left at least 21 people dead, including 16 villagers who drowned in Eastern Samar province, where the typhoon made its first landfall, according to the Philippine Red Cross. The government disaster-response agency has reported only five deaths, including three people who died of hypothermia, saying it was still verifying other reported casualties.
Displaced villagers have been asked to return home from emergency shelters in provinces where the danger posed by the typhoon had waned, including Albay province, where more than half a million people were advised to leave evacuation sites.
Nearly 12,000 villagers, however, will remain in government shelters in Albay because their homes lie near a restive volcano.