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Dec 9, 10:35 AM EST

Storm exits, sparing Philippines of huge losses


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Storm exits, sparing Philippines of huge losses

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Typhoon hits Northern Philippines

SAN JUAN, Philippines (AP) -- A storm that began as a frighteningly powerful typhoon started to blow away from the Philippines Tuesday after leaving at least 21 people dead and forcing more than 1.6 million into shelters.

Typhoon Hagupit dissipated into a tropical depression after crossing Lubang Island, 135 kilometers (85 miles) southwest of Manila, and was blowing into the South China Sea, forecasters said.

Batangas, the last major province lashed by Hagupit (pronounced HA'-goo-pit) overnight, has so far not reported any casualties or major damage, echoing similar assessments from many central Philippines provinces spared of major losses.

"With God's grace, there are zero casualties and no injuries because we were able to prepare," said Mayor Rodolfo Manalo of Batangas' idyllic San Juan town, a flood-prone coastal community popular for its beach resorts, where more than 2,800 villagers fled to a public gymnasium and other shelters before the storm slammed ashore.

After assessing the typhoon aftermath, President Benigno Aquino III reversed a decision not to attend a meeting of the leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and South Korea in Busan city later this week.

Many of the archipelago's central provinces are still reeling from last year's monster Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing and a massive trail of destruction, fueling worries about Hagupit as it approached from the Pacific with menacing gusts of 250 kph (155 mph) last week.

More than a million people fled from villages in the path of Hagupit - Filipino for "smash" or "lash" - into government emergency shelters.

In southern Basilan province, Philippine navy vessels including a patrol gunboat rushed to an island where 18 Chinese fishing boats manned by 250 crewmen dropped anchor, said Capt. Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, head of a navy unit in the area. An inter-agency team inspected the boats, found the fishermen's papers in order and no illegal items. The team accepted the fishermen's explanation that they sought shelter from the typhoon while en route from Indonesia to China.

Hagupit left at least 21 people dead, many of whom drowned in Eastern Samar province, where the typhoon made its first landfall, according to the Philippine Red Cross. The government disaster-response agency has reported only 11 deaths, saying it is still verifying other reported casualties.

Although Hagupit blew in from the Pacific with enormous force, seasonal cold winds blowing down from China deprived it of the warm and humid seas from which it draws power. The typhoon, the 18th to batter the disaster-prone country this year, slowly fizzled out.

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Associated Press writers Oliver Teves and Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this report.

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