MANILA, PHILIPPINES (AP) – A severe typhoon struck the eastern Philippines with strong winds early Sunday morning and nearly a million people have been evacuated on its expected path, including in the capital as it ordered the main international airport to close.
“There are a lot of people who are already in the areas at risk,” said Ricardo Gallad, who heads the government’s disaster response agency. “We expect significant damage.”
Hurricane Gony hit the island of Catanduanes at dawn, with sustained winds of 225 km (140 mph) per hour and gusts of 280 km per hour (174 mph) – the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane. It was blowing west toward densely populated areas, including Manila, and rain-hit provinces are still recovering from a hurricane that struck a week ago and left at least 22 dead.
The Philippine Meteorological Agency said in an urgent warning: “Within the next 12 hours, you will witness violent catastrophic winds and heavy to torrential rains associated with the eye wall area and the internal rain ranges of the hurricane.”
She said Catandoans and four other provinces will be hit for the first time, including Albay, where tens of thousands of villagers have been moved to safety, especially near the active Mayon volcano, where mudflows have killed off during past storms. Residents have been warned of potential landslides, massive flooding, storm surges of more than 5 meters (16 feet) and high winds that can blow the huts.
One of the strongest typhoons in the world this year, Goni evoked memories of Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, flattened entire villages, engulfed inland ships, and left more than 5 million homeless in the central Philippines. .
Glad said nearly a million people had been moved proactively to emergency shelters, most of them from schools and government buildings. He warned of storms that could engulf coastal villages, including Manila Bay.
Meteorologists said the hurricane could hit or patronize Manila, the densely populated capital of more than 13 million people, from late Sunday to Monday morning, and they asked the public to prepare for the worst. The typhoon may weaken considerably after it hits the Sierra Madre mountain range, then crosses the main northern island of Luzon toward the South China Sea.
Manila’s main airport has been closed for 24 hours from Sunday to Monday, and airlines canceled dozens of international and domestic flights. The Army and National Police, along with the Coast Guard and firefighters, have been put on high alert.
Glad said that about 1,000 Covid-19 patients have been transferred to hospitals and hotels from quarantine and treatment centers in the capital and North Bulacan Province. More emergency shelters will be opened than usual to avoid overcrowding that can quickly lead to infection.
Preparations for the war-like hurricane will strain government resources, which have been depleted with months of the coronavirus outbreak that has prompted the government to set up isolation and treatment centers as hospitals overwhelmed with assistance to more than 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.
Jallad said displaced villagers may have to stay longer in evacuation centers even after Goni exits on Tuesday due to another storm brewing in the Pacific Ocean that could affect the Philippines in a few days.
The Philippines is hit by about 20 typhoons and storms every year. It is also located in what is known as the “Ring of Fire” in the Pacific Ocean, a seismically active region around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common and make the impoverished country in Southeast Asia with a population of more than 100 million people one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to disasters. .
Associated Press journalists Aaron Favela and Joel Calopitan contributed to this report.