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Philippines Evacuates Nearly 1M as 2020's Strongest Typhoon Approaches


In this Philippine Red Cross photo, families are pictured at a temporary evacuation center at Catanduanes province, eastern Philippines, Nov. 1, 2020, as Typhoon Goni approaches.

Nearly a million residents were evacuated in the Philippines on Saturday as Super Typhoon Goni, this year's strongest, hit the country, with authorities fearing destructive winds and flooding.

A few hours before making landfall, Goni strengthened further, moving into the super-typhoon category.

It was expected to reach the island of Catanduanes on Sunday morning with winds of up to 215 kph (134 mph), before crossing the country's main island, Luzon, the meteorological agency warned.

The situation in Catanduanes is "extremely dangerous," according to the agency's latest forecast at 2 a.m. Sunday (6 p.m. GMT Saturday), which feared a rise in sea level of up to 3 meters (9 feet) and "catastrophic damage" in the provinces of Catanduanes, Camarines Sur and Albay.

Goni arrives a week after Molave, which affected the same region, killing 22 people and flooding a large agricultural region before continuing to Vietnam.

"We are expecting storm surges, and we are monitoring Mayon and Taal volcanoes for possible volcanic mudslides," response agency spokesman Mark Timbal told ABS-CBN television.

"Strong winds and heavy rains" were expected and could cause flooding and landslides en masse in this region of 20 million inhabitants, the weather services warned.

Civil Defense chief Ricardo Jalad said "nearly a million" people had left their homes in the Bicol region, which includes the southern part of Luzon Island and Catanduanes Island.

Authorities sent vehicles, equipment and rescue teams to high-risk areas Saturday in preparation for the arrival of the super typhoon.

Schools empty since the start of the COVID-19 epidemic serve as emergency accommodation centers for evacuees, as well as gyms and government-run evacuation centers.

"The evacuation of threatened populations is made even more difficult this year because of COVID-19," Alexis Naz, spokesman for regional civil defense services, told AFP.

In this Philippine Coast Guard photo, families are evacuated to safer ground in Camarines Sur province, eastern Philippines, Oct. 31, 2020, as Typhoon Goni approaches.
In this Philippine Coast Guard photo, families are evacuated to safer ground in Camarines Sur province, eastern Philippines, Oct. 31, 2020, as Typhoon Goni approaches.

The schools will serve as a refuge, but where they could normally shelter 16 people per room, the number will be limited to five per room because of the pandemic, he said.

Mary Ann Echague, 23, her two children, her parents and siblings fled their home in Legazpi, a coastal town in the Bicol region, to seek refuge in a school where they share a classroom with several other families.

The family, already affected by previous typhoons, brought a stove, canned meat, instant noodles, coffee, bread, pillows and blankets.

"Every time we have been hit by a typhoon, our house has suffered damage, and since then it has been built of wood with a galvanized sheet roof," she said.

“We have always managed,” she added.

Several hundred people were stranded after the coast guard ordered ferries and fishing boats to stay at the dock, with waves reaching up to 15 meters at sea.

Goni is expected to weaken considerably as it crosses the island of Luzon before reaching the South China Sea on Monday morning, according to meteorological services.

The Philippines is affected by an average of 20 tropical storms and typhoons each year, which destroy crops, fragile homes and infrastructure, keeping entire populations in permanent poverty.

The worst in recent history was Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which killed more than 7,300 people, especially in the central city of Tacloban, which was submerged by giant waves.