MANILA, Philippines – At least 20 people were confirmed dead on Wednesday after Typhoon “Basyang” (international codename: Conson) ripped across the Philippines, sweeping shanties into the sea and bringing the nation's capital to a standstill.
Basyang hit the country late on Tuesday before pummelling the densely populated main island of Luzon throughout the night with maximum gusts of 120 kilometres (74 miles) an hour.
"The wind howled like a child screaming," said Rigor Sambol, 52, a father of six who lives in a coastal shanty town on the outskirts of Manila that was partly destroyed.
“It was so strong, our houseboat nearly got flipped over. I had to take the children one by one to a nearby gym where they spent the evening on the cold floor.”
Some of the flimsy slum homes erected by squatters along the coast were swept away entirely, leaving the shocked residents to scavenge scrap wood to build makeshift shelters, according to an Agence France-Presse reporter there.
Authorities said 20 people had been confirmed killed, including two squatters from a vast lakeside shanty town near Manila who were crushed when their homes collapsed.
Eleven fishermen were also missing, while three other people were unaccounted for south of the capital after flooding swept away their shanties, according to the military.
With communication systems down amid the chaos of the typhoon's aftermath, disaster relief officials said they were still trying to determine the extent of the damage and there were concerns the death toll could rise.
Electricity was knocked out throughout Luzon, including Manila, where fallen tree branches and other debris littered the streets on Wednesday.
Power company Meralco (Manila Electric Company) said more than 90 percent of Manila's 12 million residents remained without power on Wednesday afternoon.
The national energy transmission company warned that power supplies may not be restored in some areas of Manila and neighbouring regions for up to four days.
The capital's overhead railway system was also shut down due to the power outage, while the government closed down primary and high schools.
For workers in office towers that were relying on back-up generators, it was still difficult to make telephone calls on both landline and mobile networks, while Internet services were also interrupted.
Basyang blew past Luzon and into the South China Sea on Wednesday morning, but aviation services remained backlogged in the afternoon as airport authorities scrambled to make up for earlier cancellations.
The Philippines is in the so-called typhoon belt of the Pacific. Up to 20 typhoons sweep through the country each year, killing hundreds of people.
Basyang was the first of the season, and its ferocity took many people in Manila by surprise after the state weather service said the typhoon would only strike provinces to the north of the capital.
President Benigno Aquino III let rip at the state weather service for not warning Manila's residents that Basyang would hit the city.
"This is not acceptable," Aquino told red-faced weather service officials at an emergency meeting of rescue agencies.
"We rely on you to tell us where the potential problems are.
"All the agencies have adequately met their responsibilities at this point in time but your information is sorely lacking. We have had this problem for quite a long time."
The ill-equipped Philippine weather service came in for criticism in September last year when it failed to warn the residents of Manila about the threat from Tropical Storm “Ondoy” (international codename: Ketsana), which killed 464 people.