MANILA: More than a million people were evacuated from Luzon island in the Philippines on Saturday, as the government prepared for the “world's strongest storm” to make landfall on Sunday.
Typhoon Goni, known locally as Rolly, is a category 5 storm with maximum sustained winds of 215 km/h and gusts of up to 265 km/h.
“Local officials have ordered mass evacuations, particularly in the coastal, flood and landslide-prone areas of Luzon island," Ricardo Jalad, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), said in a press briefing.
In Albay province, at least 174,616 families or 794,000 people, were evacuated in addition to 200,000 in Camarines Sur, and more than 6,000 people in Camarines Norte – all in the Bicol region, Jalad added.
He told the media about the government's preparation for dealing with the typhoon, which is being termed the strongest to hit the country since Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,300 people in Nov. 2013.
“Based on available information, for 2020, this is the strongest typhoon so far. There is supporting data and science behind that,” Ariel Rojas, weather specialist at the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), said in a separate briefing.
Schools which have been empty since March due to the COVID-19 lockdown are to be used as evacuation centers, and Jalad said local authorities had also identified other facilities to house the affected population. Officials have been advised to monitor and ensure that COVID-19 protocols are observed at all times to prevent a surge in infections.
Jalad said the Department of Health had ordered the transfer of an estimated 1,000 COVID-19 patients — quarantined in medical tents and mega facilities — to hospitals and other, more secure, facilities.
The NDRRMC had earlier called on the public to prepare for and adhere to warnings about Typhoon Goni, which is expected to bring destructive winds and heavy rains.
According to PAGASA, the seaboards of northern Luzon and the eastern seaboards of central and southern Luzon may experience rough to very rough seas, so sea travel was risky over these areas, especially for mariners of small vessels.
It also warned that flooding, including flash floods, rain-induced landslides, and sediment-laden streamflows might occur during heavy or prolonged rainfall, especially in areas that were highly or very highly susceptible to these hazards.
It said there was a high risk of a storm surge of more than 10 feet high over the northern coastal areas of Quezon including Polillo Islands, Camarines provinces, and Catanduanes.
In its latest bulletin, PAGASA said Typhoon Goni had maintained its strength and was moving west-southwestward toward the Bicol area.
As of 1 p.m. Saturday, it was spotted 410 km east-northeast of Virac, Catanduanes, and is forecast to cross the mainland of Camarines provinces on Sunday morning and mainland Quezon by the afternoon.