MANILA, Philippines (AP) – A super typhoon hit the eastern Philippines with fierce winds early Sunday and an estimated one million people were evacuated on its intended path, including in the capital where the main international airport has been closed.
“There are so many people who really live in vulnerable areas,” said Ricardo Jalad, who heads the government disaster response agency. “We expect major damage.”
Typhoon Goni hit the island province of Catanduanes at dawn with sustained winds of 225 kilometers (140 miles) per hour and gusts of 280 km / h (174 mph) – equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane. It was blowing west to densely populated areas, including Manila, and rainy provinces still recovering from a typhoon that struck a week ago and killed at least 22 people.
“In the next 12 hours, catastrophic high winds and heavy to torrential rains associated with the eye wall area and internal bands of rain from the typhoon will be felt,” the Philippine Meteorological Agency said in an urgent notice.
He said Catanduanes and four other provinces will be the first to be hit, including Albay, where tens of thousands of villagers have been brought to safety, especially near the active Mayon volcano, where mudslides have caused death during past storms. Residents have been warned of probable landslides, massive flooding, storm surges over 5 meters (16 feet) and fierce winds that can blow the barracks away.
One of the world’s most powerful typhoons this year, Goni spoke of memories of Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, which left more than 7,300 dead and missing, razed entire villages, swept ships inland. and displaced more than 5 million people in the central Philippines. .
Jalad said nearly a million people have been pre-emptively moved to emergency shelters, mainly schools and government buildings. He warned of storm surges that could flood coastal villages, especially in Manila Bay.
Forecasters said the eye of the typhoon could strike or graze metropolitan Manila, the densely populated capital region of more than 13 million people, from Sunday evening through Monday morning and called on the public to prepare for the worst. . The typhoon can weaken considerably after hitting the Sierra Madre mountain range and then passing through the main northern island of Luzon towards the South China Sea.
Manila’s main airport was closed for 24 hours from Sunday to Monday, and airlines have canceled dozens of international and domestic flights. The military and national police, as well as the coast guard and firefighters, have been put on alert.
About 1,000 COVID-19 patients have been transferred to hospitals and hotels from quarantine and tented treatment centers in the capital and northern Bulacan province, Jalad said. More emergency shelters would be opened than usual to avoid congestion that can quickly trigger infections.
The war-like typhoon preparations will put additional strain on government resources, which have been depleted with months of coronavirus outbreaks that have prompted the government to set up isolation and treatment centers when hospitals have been overwhelmed and to provide aid to over 20 million poor Filipinos.
The Philippines has reported more than 380,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the second highest in Southeast Asia, with 7,221 deaths.
Displaced villagers may have to stay longer in evacuation centers even after Goni’s exit on Tuesday due to another brewing storm in the Pacific that could affect the Philippines within days, Jalad said.
The Philippines is hit by about 20 typhoons and storms per year. It is also located in the so-called “Ring of Fire” of the Pacific, a seismically active region around the Pacific where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common and make the impoverished nation of Southeast Asia more of 100 million people one of the most disaster-prone in the world. .
Associated Press reporters Aaron Favila and Joeal Calupitan contributed to this report.