DARAGA, Philippines (AFP) – Babies, toddlers and old people were loaded onto military trucks in pouring rain in the Philippines on Sunday (Dec 25) as tens of thousands fled the path of a powerful typhoon barrelling towards the disaster-prone archipelago.
Officials warned of storm surges up to 2.5-m high, landslides and flash floods as Nock-Ten closed in on the Bicol peninsula and nearby islands.
The typhoon threat, on one of the biggest holidays in the mainly Christian nation, triggered mass evacuations that officials said could eventually displace hundreds of thousands of people.
One provincial governor offered roast pig at evacuation centres to entice people to forsake celebrations at home.
“We went around with megaphones and gave instructions to our people to eat breakfast, pack and board the military trucks,” Alberto Lindo, an official of Alcala, a farming village of 3,300 people near the active Mayon volcano, told AFP.
About 100 babies, toddlers, parents and elderly people were the first to be trucked off to a school some 7km away as rain and strong winds shook trees at midday.
“There are large ash deposits on the slopes (of Mayon). Heavy rain can dislodge them and bury our homes in mud,” Lindo added.
Philippine and international weather services said Nock-Ten, named after a bird found in Laos, was set to hit Bicol on the south of the main island of Luzon on Sunday evening.
The US Joint Typhoon Warning Centre has forecast sustained winds of 231 kph and gusts of 278 kph when Nock-Ten makes landfall at the now-isolated island province of Catanduanes, home to 250,000 people.
The government has forced more than 12,000 residents to move away from the Catanduanes coast after the state weather service warned the landfall could be as early as 6:00 pm, said provincial vice governor Shirley Abundo.
“Please evacuate now while you still have time,” she said in a live appeal on ABS-CBN television.
In Camarines Sur province near Catanduanes, governor Miguel Villafuerte said on his Facebook page that nearly 90,000 residents have been evacuated as part of his goal to achieve “zero casualty”.
In another post on Twitter, the governor hinted at the difficulty of convincing people to recognise the approaching danger amid the revelry.
“Please evacuate, we will offer roast pig at the evacuation centres,” he tweeted.
Weather forecasters said the typhoon would eventually affect an area of nearly 42 million people, including the capital Manila which was forecast to be hit on Monday.
Civil defence officials in Bicol said earlier nearly half a million people in the region were in harm’s way and needed to be evacuated. Evacuations were continuing on Christmas Day as the military and local governments sent trucks to clear people from coastal communities and other areas hit by landslides or flash floods in previous storms.
Some 20 typhoons or lesser storms strike the Philippines each year, routinely killing hundreds of people, and Bicol is often the first region to be hit.
It prides itself on having sharpened its disaster response to minimise casualties.
“We have recalled all of our first responders from vacation. They will be on 24-hour standby and on call for rescues or support,” Rachel Miranda, spokeswoman for the region’s civil defence office, told AFP.
Nock-Ten, which will arrive outside the normal typhoon season, caused all ferry services and commercial flights in Bicol to be suspended.
Some of the thousands of commuters stranded at dozens of ports closed for the typhoon spent the night inside evacuation centres on Saturday.
After Bicol, Nock-Ten is forecast to strike the heavily populated heartland of Luzon including Manila.
Rescue workers in the capital and the flood-prone central Luzon plains to the north have been put on standby, evacuation centres opened and food and other rations stocked.
The coastguard on Sunday ordered the beaches south of Manila to be cleared of holidaymakers by Monday, while residents of the capital’s seaside slums were warned to leave their homes.
Mammoth tsunami-like sea waves devastated the city of Tacloban and nearby areas when super typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines in November 2013, leaving 7,350 people dead or missing.