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Typhoon Slams Philippines


Another massive storm in the Pacific in the Philippines, and it's headed toward China. The typhoon hit the Philippine coastline before dawn today. Authorities are assessing damage and confirm two rescuers were killed in a landslide. The storm remains powerful as it heads towards Hong Kong, putting millions more at risk. NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Manila. Julie, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: What sort of damage did the typhoon do?

MCCARTHY: Well, first of all, this typhoon is called Ompong here. They give it sort of a Filipino cast to engage the public, which I think is kind of a stroke of genius. It struck the northern - northern Luzon, the biggest island in the Philippines. And the territory there is mountainous and farmland. The country's rice-producing region has been deluged. The rains have fallen nonstop for hours. The winds howled into - onshore over 125 miles an hour. Entire provinces are struggling to regain power. There are landslides. And we're getting word from the National Defense Office, as you referred to, that the two - two first responders were killed in the central mountain region. They are investigating the nature of their deaths as well as investigating four people who have gone missing and three more who have apparently died in a landslide.

SIMON: And yet given the number of people who are in a zone that's at risk, the death toll - well, it's - it seems small. How much of a surprise is this?

MCCARTHY: I think it's a big surprise. It's remarkable because you had 5 million people who were at risk. And historically in the Philippines, typhoons of this magnitude generate hundreds, if not thousands, of fatalities. And you might remember, Scott, in 2013, there was a super typhoon, Haiyan. It killed more than 6,000 people here. It was a more powerful storm on flat terrain. But remember, too, that in the case of Ompong, this one, communications have been cut in large areas. And there's no word yet from people. And in a storm this intense, it's difficult to imagine that more damage isn't out there. It's going to take a few days for that to emerge. And disaster managers are out in the field telling us it's too early to assess the damage and that high winds are keeping them from even going out. Winds have ripped off roofs, toppled trees, destroyed an undetermined number of homes, and they're still hunkered down.

SIMON: What's the storm doing now, Julie, from what you can tell?

MCCARTHY: Well, if Florence is a slow-grinding storm, this one, Ompong, is fast moving. It's back over the water, traveling across the South China Sea headed for Hong Kong and the gambling mecca of Macau before it hits the Chinese coast in the next 24 hours. And millions are bracing for it there.

SIMON: And I guess forced evacuations were very successful, weren't they?

MCCARTHY: They certainly were. It looks like 63,000 people went to evacuation centers. There was a big boost in numbers just hours before the typhoon hit very early this morning. And one Red Cross official said he was amazed at the coordination on the ground between the local, regional and national organizers.

SIMON: NPR's Julie McCarthy in Manila, thanks so much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.