LEGAZPI, Philippines - Typhoon Hagupit knocked out power, left at least three people dead, and sent nearly 900,000 into shelters before it weakened Sunday, sparing the central Philippines the type of massive devastation that a monster storm brought to the region last year.
Shallow floods, damaged shanties, and ripped-off store signs and tin roofs were a common sight across the region, but there was no major destruction after Hagupit slammed into Eastern Samar and other island provinces. It was packing maximum sustained winds of 87 miles per hour and gusts of 106 m.p.h. Sunday, considerably weaker from its peak power, but still a potentially deadly storm, forecasters said.
The typhoon, which made landfall late Saturday in Eastern Samar, was moving slowly, dumping heavy rain that could possibly trigger landslides and flash floods.
Traumatized by the death and destruction from Typhoon Haiyan last year, nearly 900,000 people fled to about 1,000 emergency shelters and safer grounds. The government, backed by the 120,000-strong military, had launched massive preparations to attain a zero-casualty target.
Waiting in fear
Rhea Estuna, 29, a mother of one, fled Thursday to an evacuation center in Tacloban - the city hardest-hit by Haiyan - and waited in fear as Hagupit's wind and rain lashed the school where she and her family sought refuge. When she peered outside Sunday, she said she saw a starkly different aftermath than the one she witnessed after Haiyan struck in November 2013.
"There were no bodies scattered on the road, no big mounds of debris," Estuna said by cellphone. "Thanks to God, this typhoon wasn't as violent."
Nearly a dozen countries, led by the United States and the European Union, have pledged to help in case of a catastrophe from Hagupit (pronounced HA-goo-pit), disaster-response agency chief Alexander Pama said.
Two people, including a baby girl, died of hypothermia in central Iloilo province Saturday at the height of the typhoon, Pama said at a news conference. Another person died after being hit by a falling tree in the eastern town of Dolores, where the typhoon first made landfall, according to Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.
Two women were injured when the tricycle taxi they were riding was struck by a falling tree in central Negros Oriental province.
Displaced villagers were asked to return home from emergency shelters in provinces where the danger posed by the typhoon had waned.
A restive volcano
Nearly 12,000 villagers, however, will remain in government shelters in Albay because their homes lie near a restive volcano.
While officials expressed relief that the typhoon had not caused major damage, they were quick to warn that Hagupit - Filipino for smash or lash - was still on course to barrel across three major central Philippine islands before starting to blow away Tuesday into the South China Sea.
Several typhoon-lashed eastern villages isolated by downed telephone and power lines were out of contact, Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said.
"It's too early to tell," Philippine Red Cross Secretary-General Gwendolyn Pang said. "Let's cross our fingers that it will stay that way. It's too close to Christmas."
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 to Haiyan last year.
Unlike major storms in past years, many people readily left high-risk communities ahead of Hagupit, Soliman said.
"Haiyan was the best teacher of all," he said. "People did not need much convincing to move to safety. In fact, many of them volunteered to go."