A super typhoon has barrelled into the eastern Philippines bringing “catastrophic” winds and intense rains as about a million people were evacuated in its projected path including in the capital, Manila, where the main international airport was ordered closed.
Officials said at least seven people had been killed. Governor Al Francis Bichara said four people died in his hard-hit province of Albay, including a father and son who were in a rural community hit by mudflows and boulders swept down from Mayon Volcano by heavy rains.
Villagers fled to safety as the typhoon approached, but the two apparently stayed put, he said. “The child was found 15km (9 miles) away,” Bichara told DZMM radio.
Three other villagers, including one pinned down by a tree, were killed in Albay, the Office of Civil Defense said.
One of the most powerful typhoons in the world this year, Goni has evoked memories of Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, which left more than 7,300 people dead and missing, flattened entire villages, swept ships inland and displaced more than five million in the central Philippines.
“There are so many people who are really in vulnerable areas,” Ricardo Jalad, who heads the government’s disaster response agency, said on Sunday. “We’re expecting major damage.”
Typhoon Goni hit the island province of Catanduanes at dawn with sustained winds of 225 kilometres (140 miles) per hour and gusts of 280 kph (174 mph) – equivalent to a Category-5 hurricane. It was blowing west towards densely populated regions, including Manila, and rain-soaked provinces still recovering from a typhoon that hit a week ago and left at least 22 dead.
“Within the next 12 hours, catastrophic violent winds and intense to torrential rainfall associated with the region of the eyewall and inner rain bands of the typhoon will be experienced,” the Philippine weather agency said in an urgent advisory.
It said Catanduanes and four other provinces will be the first hit, including Albay, where tens of thousands of villagers have been moved to safety, especially near the active Mayon volcano, where mudflows have caused deaths during past storms. Residents have been warned of likely landslides, significant flooding, storm surges of more than five meters (16 feet) and ferocious wind that can blow away shanties.
Between 19 million and 31 million people could be affected, including those in danger zones, the disaster management agency said.
“The winds are fierce. We can hear the trees being pummelled. It’s very strong,” Francia Mae Borras, 21, told the AFP news agency from her home in the coastal city of Legazpi in Albay province.
The roofs of two evacuation centres were ripped off by the force of the wind and the occupants moved to the ground floors, Albay provincial public safety chief Cedric Daep told DZBB radio station.
Goni follows Typhoon Molave, which hit the Philippines last month killing 22 people, mostly through drowning in provinces south of Manila.
Jalad, head of the disaster-response agency, said nearly a million people have been preemptively moved into emergency shelters, mostly schools and government buildings. He warned of storm surges that could inundate coastal villages, including in Manila Bay.
Forecasters said the typhoon’s eye may hit or graze metropolitan Manila, the densely populated capital region of more than 13 million, late Sunday to early Monday and asked the public to brace for the worst. The typhoon may considerably weaken after it hits the Sierra Madre mountain range, then cross the main northern Luzon island towards the South China Sea.
Manila’s main airport was ordered shut down for 24 hours from Sunday to Monday and airlines cancelled dozens of international and domestic flights. The military and national police, along with the coastguard and firefighters, have been put on full alert.
Mary Ann Echague, 23, and her family fled their home in Legazpi on Saturday to an inland primary school where they were sheltering in a classroom with several other families.
“We fear the wrath of the typhoon,” said Echague, who was with her two children, parents and siblings. They had carried with them a portable stove, tinned meat, instant noodles, coffee, bread, blankets and pillows.
“Each time we’re hit by a typhoon our house gets damaged, since it’s made of wood and galvanised iron roofing,” she said.
About 1,000 COVID-19 patients were moved to hospitals and hotels from tent quarantine and treatment centres in the capital and the northern province of Bulacan, according to the disaster response agency. More emergency shelters would be opened than usual to avoid congestion that can rapidly lead to infections.
The war-like typhoon preparations will further strain government resources, which have been drained with months of coronavirus outbreaks that prompted the government to set up isolation and treatment centres when hospitals were overwhelmed and provide aid to more than 20 million poor Filipinos.
The Philippines has reported more than 380,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the second-highest in Southeast Asia, with 7,221 deaths.
The Philippines is lashed by about 20 typhoons and storms a year. It is also located in the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a seismically active region around the Pacific where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common and make the impoverished Southeast Asian nation of more than 100 million people one of the world’s most disaster-prone.