Philippines evacuates close to 1 million ahead of year’s strongest typhoon

A man cleans the stairs along a river with empty billboards in preparation for typhoon Goni in Pasay City, Philippines. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA - The Philippines on Saturday (Oct 31) evacuated close to a million people, as it braced for the strongest typhoon to hit anywhere in the world this year.

Typhoon Goni, known locally as Rolly, is bearing down on the eastern part of the main island of Luzon, with winds of up to 295 kilometres per hour, approximating the strength of Typhoon Haiyan that killed more than 6,300 people in November 2013.

"The strength of this typhoon is no joke," Mr Gremil Naz, a local disaster official in Albay province, told radio station DZBB.

Goni is forecast to sweep through the same regions still reeling from the fury of another typhoon, Molave, which last week left 22 people dead, inundated provinces in regions south of the capital Manila, and caused at least 1.81 billion pesos (S$51 million) in damage to farmlands.

Goni is expected to weaken slightly when it makes landfall in the eastern provinces of Catanduanes and Camarines early on Sunday (Nov 1) and cut a path very close to Manila. But it will still have maximum winds of about 250kph.

Typhoon alerts have been raised across Luzon and the eastern part of central Philippines. The weather bureau warned of heavy rains, storm surges of up to 3 metres, floods and landslides.

Mr Ricardo Jalad, executive director of the national disaster agency, told a news conference that about 794,000 people living in coastal and landslide-prone communities in Albay had already been evacuated.

Mr Don Culvera, a disaster response official, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer close to 160,000 in Camarines had left their homes for emergency shelters.

In Manila and nearby Bulacan province, roughly 1,000 Covid-19 patients housed in large isolation tents could be transferred to hotels and hospitals, Mr Jalad said.

The Philippines has the second highest Covid-19 infections and deaths in South-east Asia, next only to Indonesia, with 380,729 cases and 7,221 deaths.

Many more across southern Luzon have been advised to get ready to evacuate.

State vulcanologists, meanwhile, warned of possible mudflows in three active volcanoes.

The Philippine Red Cross said it has pre-positioned rescue vehicles, first aid volunteers, emergency response teams and relief items, and are assisting communities ahead of the typhoon's expected landfall.

The Coast Guard has shut down more than a dozen ports, mostly in the Bicol region, leaving some 1,500 stranded.

Mr Harry Roque, President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman, said the nation's main disaster response agency is now on red alert, and the Social Welfare Ministry has already stockpiled relief goods and earmarked relief funds worth some 870 million pesos.

Goni is the third typhoon to hit the Philippines in three weeks. Another storm, Atsani, is set to bear down on the archipelago next week.

The Philippines is the first major landmass facing the Pacific cyclone belt.

It gets hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year.

The typhoon season usually starts in June and peters out by November. But in recent years, the strongest typhoons have been slamming the country as the year draws to a close in November and December.

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