MANILA • A powerful typhoon hit the central Philippines yesterday, forcing a complicated and risky evacuation of tens of thousands of people, many of them heading to cramped shelters without proper safety gear to guard against the coronavirus.
Typhoon Vongfong sheared roofs from houses, uprooted coconut trees and dumped heavy rain as it made landfall on the island of Samar, sending locals to emergency shelters. Due to the twin threat of the storm and the virus, evacuation centres in central Philippines said they will accept only half their capacity and evacuees will have to wear face masks.
Hundreds of thousands live in coastal areas and flimsy homes near where the storm blasted ashore, and tens of millions more are on the storm's forecast path that runs near the capital Manila.
"We are trapped in a nightmare situation where we face the threat of the storm as well as Covid-19," evacuee Mary Ann Encinares said at a shelter, where she and her children had fashioned masks out of handkerchiefs and rubber bands.
The surge of people and limited space mean the authorities have asked big churches in the area to accept people fleeing the typhoon, which is the first of the season.
Some towns had also converted their evacuation centres into sites to deal with coronavirus patients, forcing them to consider using schools shuttered by the pandemic.
"The problem there is how do you address the issue of social distancing inside the classrooms?" asked Mr Ben Evardone, governor of the central province Eastern Samar.
Vongfong unleashed winds of 165kmh and gusts of up to 190kmh as well as rains that could cause flooding and landslides, the national weather agency said.
Areas in the typhoon's path are under varying levels of virus quarantine, yet many people are staying at home to avoid the risk of infection.
The Philippines has reported 790 deaths and more than 11,800 cases of the virus, though the number is believed to be higher owing to limited testing.
Some 22,000 people were evacuated from the slopes of the active Mayon volcano ahead of the typhoon's arrival to prevent casualties from landslides caused by heavy downpours.
The Philippine archipelago is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year. The deadliest cyclone on record was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.