By Oliver Teves ,AP
MANILA, Philippines — Typhoon Hagupit slammed into the central Philippines’ east coast late Saturday, knocking out power and toppling trees in a region where 650,000 people have fled to safety, still haunted by the massive death and destruction wrought by a monster storm last year.
Packing maximum sustained winds of 175 kilometers (109 miles) per hour and gusts of 210 kph (130 mph), Hagupit made landfall in Dolores, a coastal town facing the Pacific in Eastern Samar province, according to the country’s weather agency. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Although it was unlikely to reach the unprecedented strength of Typhoon Haiyan, Hagupit’s winds and rain were strong enough to cause major damage to an impoverished region still reeling from the devastating November 2013 storm, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing.
��There are many trees that have toppled, some of them on the highway,�� police Senior Inspector Alex Robin said by phone late Saturday from Dolores, hours before Hagupit made landfall. ��We are totally in the dark here. The only light comes from flashlights.��
From Eastern Samar, Hagupit �X Filipino for ��smash�� or ��lash�� �X was expected to hammer parts of a string of island provinces that was devastated by Haiyan’s tsunami-like storm surges and ferocious winds. Hagupit weakened slightly on Saturday, but remained dangerously powerful and erratic.
Robin said about 600 families had hunkered down in Dolores’ three-story municipal hall, one of many emergency shelters in the town.
��Everyone here is just looking for a place to sleep,�� he said. ��All the windows are closed, but it is still cool because of the wind and the rain.��
Eastern Samar province Rep. Ben Evardone said electricity also was knocked out early Saturday in Borongan city, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of Dolores, where the government has set up a command center for rescue and relief operations headed by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.
Evardone said the strong winds also felled trees and ripped off roofing sheets. ��You can hear the whistling of the wind,�� he said.
��Everybody is in fear because of what happened during (Haiyan),�� Evardone said. ��We can already feel the wrath of the typhoon. Everybody is praying.��
Big waves have pushed seawater over concrete walls along a boulevard, flooding it, Evardone said.
Army troops deployed to supermarkets and major roads in provinces in the typhoon’s path to prevent looting and chaos and clear debris, all of which slowed the government’s response last year, said Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, head of the Philippines’ 120,000-strong military.