MANILA (Reuters) - A strong typhoon slammed into the rice-producing Philippine northern region on Sunday, cutting power and communications lines and forcing people to flee to higher ground, national disaster agency officials said.
Packing central winds of 130 kph (81 mph) and gusts of up to 160 kph, Typhoon Kalmaegi made landfall early evening Sunday in Isabela province, dumping heavy rains that soaked farms, said Alexander Pama, executive director of the national disaster risk reduction and management council.
Kalmaegi, known locally as "Luis", is moving west northwest at 22 kph, but is expected to weaken and lose speed as it will cross a mountainous region before exiting into the South China Sea.
"There are still no reports of casualties and damage," said Pama. "We are initiating our disaster response. We will evacuate flood prone and low lying areas, we have pre-positioned food packs for displaced families."
The disaster agency has no estimate on the number of people that were moved to shelter areas, but hundreds had evacuated coastal villages as the storm approached.
Typhoon alert levels were raised in 22 provinces, mostly in the northern and central plains of the main island of Luzon. People were warned against flash floods, landslides and storm surges reaching 2 meters in coastal areas.
On Sunday, civil aviation authorities grounded 24 domestic flights while the coast guard stopped ferries and fishing boats from going to sea. Soldiers were placed on alert to evacuated communities.
"Some farmers have started to harvest rice and corn days before the typhoon," said Norma Talosig, head of the Office of Civil Defence in the Cagayan region, a major rice production area in the Philippines.
On Monday, some public offices and schools will be shut down because they will be used as temporary shelter areas.
(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Michael Urquhart)