CAUAYAN, Philippines – Super Typhoon Megi dumped heavy rains over the Philippine capital as it departed Tuesday after killing seven people, creating a wasteland of fallen trees in the north and sending thousands scrambling to safety in near-zero visibility.
The strongest cyclone to buffet the country in years slammed into the northern Philippines on Monday and was forecast to regain strength over the South China Sea on Tuesday as it headed toward China and Vietnam, where recent floods unrelated to the storm already have caused 30 deaths.
Surging currents on Vietnam's flooded main highway Monday swept away a bus and 20 of its passengers, including a boy pulled from his mother's grasp. In China, authorities evacuated 140,000 people from a coastal province ahead of the typhoon that was expected to hit the southern coast around midnight Tuesday. Heavy rains have already lashed Hainan.
Megi packed sustained winds of 140 miles (225 kilometers) per hour and gusts of 162 mph (260 kph) as it made landfall in the northern province of Isabela, felling trees and utility poles and cutting off power, phone and Internet services. Its ferocious wind slightly weakened while crossing the mountains of the Philippines' main northern island of Luzon.
Blowing over the open sea Tuesday, the typhoon's massive outer bands still stretched over much of western Luzon and drenched the capital, Manila, and surrounding areas, snarling traffic and sending about 1,000 people out of their homes into temporary shelters.
In Isabela province, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) northeast of the capital, more than 4,150 people rode out the typhoon in sturdy school buildings, town halls, churches and relatives' homes. Roads in and out of the coastal province were deserted and blocked by collapsed trees, power lines and debris.
Seven deaths were blamed on the typhoon.
One man who had just rescued his water buffalo slipped and fell into a river and drowned in Cagayan province, near Isabela. A woman was pinned to death when a tamarind tree crushed her house and injured her child in Kalinga province, and a security guard died after being struck by a pine tree in nearby Baguio city, officials said.
In Pangasinan province, a mother and her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son who were pinned to death when a tree collapsed on their house, regional disaster official Eugene Cabrera said. Another man was killed by lighthing in the same province.
At least nine were injured in the region by falling trees, collapsed roof and shattered glass, officials said.
There was near-zero visibility when the storm crashed ashore and radio reports said the wind was so powerful that people could not take more than a step at a time. Ships and fishing vessels were told to stay in ports, and several flights were canceled.
The entire Isabela province lost power along with 16 of Cagayan's 28 towns. Cagayan Gov. Alvaro Antonio said the wind was fierce but blew high from the ground, sparing many ricefields ready for harvesting.
Although initial casualties were low compared to past storms, retired army Maj. Gen. Benito Ramos, who heads the country's disaster-preparedness agency, expressed sadness over the deaths. Bracing for the typhoon, he said, was like "preparing for war."
"This was tougher because in war, I could take a nap," Ramos told The Associated Press.
Thousands of military reserve officers and volunteers were on standby, along with helicopters, including six Chinooks that were committed by U.S. troops holding war exercises with Filipino soldiers near Manila, Ramos said.
In July, authorities were caught off-guard by a storm that killed more than 100 people in Manila and outlying provinces. This time, the capital avoided any direct hit and preparations in the north included evacuations and the positioning of emergency relief and food supplies.
Megi was the most powerful typhoon to hit the Philippines since a 2006 howler with 155-mph (250-kph) winds set off mudslides that buried entire villages, killing about 1,000 people.
In Vietnam, officials say up to 31.5 inches (800 millimeters) of rain have pounded areas in just a few days, forcing 126,000 people to flee their homes. Earlier flooding this month left more than 80 people dead or missing.
"People are exhausted," Vietnamese disaster official Nguyen Ngoc Giai said by telephone from Quang Binh province. "Many people have not even returned to their flooded homes from previous flooding, while many others who returned home several days ago were forced to be evacuated again."
The storm was expected to hit southern China overnight. China's National Meteorological Center issued its second-highest alert for potential "wild winds and huge waves." Nearly 140,000 people fled homes in the southern island province of Hainan, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Monday.
Thailand also reported flooding that killed at least four people and submerged thousands of homes. It also prompted the evacuation of nearly 100 elephants from a popular tourist attraction north of the capital.