Typhoon Bopha smashed into the southern Philippines today as more than 40,000 people crammed into shelters to escape the onslaught of the strongest cyclone to hit the country this year.

The state weather service said Bopha made landfall on Mindanao Island’s east coast at dawn, raking across the island of 10 million people, packing gusts of up to 210 kilometers an hour and bringing heavy rainfall.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or serious damage but Mindanao was in lockdown with the residents of coastal and flood-prone areas moving into shelters as floods hit some areas.

Aviation and shipping were suspended, with 80 flights grounded and thousands of ferry passengers stranded at ports as the coastguard ordered vessels to stay in port, the civil defence office said.

More than 41,000 people had moved into nearly 1,000 government shelters across the island today, it said in its latest bulletin.

The commercial centre of Cagayan de Oro, one of Mindanao’s largest cities, was hit by flooding as rivers overflowed following heavy rains. Schools were declared holiday in Mindanao and large areas of the central Philippines.

President Benigno Aquino led calls for evacuations yesterday, saying: “(Bopha’s) destructive potential is no laughing matter. It is expected to be the strongest typhoon to hit our country in 2012.”

The Philippines is battered by about 20 typhoons a year, some of them destructive. Bopha is the 16th so far this year.

In August, nearly 100 people were killed and more than a million were displaced by heavy flooding caused by a series of storms.

Nineteen typhoons struck the country last year, of which 10 were destructive, leading to more than 1,500 deaths and affecting nearly 10 per cent of the total population, according to the government.

(This article was published on December 4, 2012)
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