MANILA: Nearly a million people in the Philippines were evacuated from their homes Saturday (Oct 31) as the most powerful typhoon of the year so far barrelled towards the country, with authorities warning of "destructive" winds and flooding.
Typhoon Goni is expected to slam into Catanduanes Island on Sunday morning with 215 kmh sustained winds and gusts of up to 265 kmh, before crossing the main island of Luzon, the state weather forecaster said.
It comes a week after Typhoon Molave hit the same region of the natural disaster-prone archipelago, killing 22 people and flooding low-lying villages and farmland, before crossing the South China Sea to Vietnam.
"It looks like we will have really strong winds, increasing the chances of widespread flooding and landslides," Mark Timbal, spokesman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, told local broadcaster ABS-CBN.
"Storm surges are imminent on our east coast. We are monitoring Mayon and Taal volcanoes for possible volcanic mud flows."
It is expected to be the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines since Haiyan that killed more than 6,300 people in 2013.
Pre-emptive evacuations have started in coastal and landslide-prone communities in the provinces of Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur, while Albay provincial government would order residents in risky areas to leave their homes, Gremil Naz, a local disaster official, told DZBB radio station. "The strength of this typhoon is no joke."
COVID-19 COMPLICATED EVACUATIONS
Authorities are facing another hurdle as social distancing needs to be imposed in evacuation centres to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The Philippines has the second-highest COVID-19 infections and deaths in Southeast Asia, next only to Indonesia.
Schools which have been empty since the start of the coronavirus pandemic are being used as emergency shelters as well as government-run evacuation centres and gymnasiums.
"Evacuating people is more difficult at this time because of COVID-19," Bicol regional civil defence spokesman Alexis Naz told AFP.
Relief goods, heavy machinery and personal protective equipment are already positioned in key areas, Filipino Grace America, mayor of Infanta town in Quezon province, told DZBB radio. "But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our funds for calamity concerns and expenses are insufficient."
Local officials cancelled port operations and barred fishers from setting sail.
Typhoon Goni, moving westward at 20 kmh from the Pacific Ocean, will bring intense rains over the capital and 14 provinces nearby on Saturday evening, and threats of floods and landslides.
Another typhoon, Atsani, is gaining strength just outside the Philippines. Around 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year.