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At least eight people were confirmed dead on Wednesday after Typhoon Conson ripped across the Philippines, sweeping shanties into the sea and bringing the nation's capital to a standstill.

Conson, the first typhoon of the year, hit the Southeast Asian archipelago late on Tuesday before sweeping over the heavily populated main island of Luzon 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, drenched residents to scavenge scrap wood to build makeshift shelters, according to an AFP reporter there.

Eight people had been confirmed dead on Wednesday morning, rescue officials said.

Four of the victims drowned, two were crushed by an uprooted tree, while another was struck by a flying metal sheet. The cause of death for the eighth confirmed fatality was unclear.

Eleven fishermen also remained missing off the Bicol region southeast of the capital, army spokesman Major Ronald Alcudia said.

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 the main island of Luzon, including Manila, where fallen tree branches and other debris littered the streets on Wednesday.

Power company Meralco said more than 90 percent of Manila's 12 million residents remained without power by early Wednesday afternoon.

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 those workers who did manage to get to work, it was difficult to make make telephone calls on both landline and mobile networks.

Conson blew past Luzon and into the South China Sea on Wednesday morning, but some international flights in and out of Manila were still cancelled while others were delayed.

The Philippines is in the so-called typhoon belt of the Pacific. Up to 20 cyclones sweep through the country each year, killing hundreds of people.

Conson was the first of the season, and its ferocity took Manila's citizens and authorities by surprise.

President Benigno Aquino let rip at the state weather service for not warning Manila's residents that Conson 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."

Many people in Manila went to bed late Tuesday having been lulled by forecasters' bulletins that Conson would hit the northern provinces instead of Manila.

However, the weather service failed to mention that the typhoon had a wide radius of 300 kilometres.

"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," Aquino said.

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 Ketsana, which killed 464 people.