Manila races to prepare for potential devastation.
Manila, the sprawling, low-lying capital of the Philippines, braced for the impact of Typhoon Goni on Sunday afternoon, as the powerful tropical storm churned its way across the country’s central eastern flank.
Although the typhoon has weakened since it made landfall early on Sunday morning with sustained winds of 135 miles per hour, about 13 million people in and around the Philippine capital are at risk from heavy rain, winds, flooding and possible storm surges.
Thousands of city residents have been relocated by the Coast Guard and local disaster officials, particularly those living in vulnerable areas near Manila Bay.
“We have been on high alert since Friday,” said Franciso Domagoso, the mayor of Manila. “So far, the winds have been OK, but we have preemptively evacuated.”
Mr. Domagoso said that the city, which has been battling outbreaks of Covid-19, is trying “to strictly follow health protocols at the evacuation centers so we won’t have a spread of the coronavirus.”
“Right now we are busy clearing debris on the roads, including fallen electricity wires and providing emergency food and provisions,” he said.
Goni is projected to whip past Manila on Sunday evening before exiting Philippine territory and continuing onward to the South China Sea early on Monday.
In Albay Province, one of the first heavily populated areas to be battered by Goni on Sunday, A.J. Miraflor, a resident, said the typhoon was “powerful and winds were howling.”
Flooding had inundated some streets, he said. On social media, Mr. Miraflor posted images from his mobile phone of people stranded on their rooftops as floodwaters swept through Cagsawa village near the town of Daraga in Albay.
But Mr. Miraflor said that Goni has not brought large numbers of casualties in his home region so far. The governor of Albay reported at least two deaths earlier on Sunday. Another typhoon, Durian, in 2006, devastated the area when massive mudflows poured forth from the nearby Mayon Volcano. Nearly 2,000 people died from that storm.
In 1814, Cagsawa village was buried when Mayon erupted, just one of a long list of natural disasters endured by this part of the Philippines.
Two deaths reported as Goni’s strength recalls a storm that ravaged the country in 2013.
With sustained winds of 135 miles per hour as it whipped across the central Philippines on Sunday morning, Typhoon Goni now ranks among the most powerful tropical storms systems to make landfall in recorded history, even if its impact weakened as it reached the Southeast Asian country.
In 2013, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Haiyan, another record-challenging storm, which killed more than 6,300 people on the same populous island of Luzon now being lashed by Goni. Haiyan destroyed or severely damaged more than four million homes, and the widespread looting that followed the storm devastated the university city of Tacloban.
The Philippine national weather agency has warned that Goni’s effect on Luzon may be “catastrophic.”
On Sunday morning, Governor Al Francis Bichara of Albay Province, in the Bicol region of Luzon, said that two people had been killed by fallen trees or debris from Goni. With dike systems damaged, floods were swirling through the province, he said. And mudflows, like wet concrete, from the slopes of the Mayon Volcano were reported, as well.
The national weather agency has warned of “complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings,” as well as “total damage to banana plantations.” All signs and billboards in affected areas may be blown down, and electricity and telecommunications services will be “severely disrupted,” the agency said.
The airport in Manila has been closed and mass transit links suspended in the capital. Fishermen have been ordered to stay off their boats, as Goni, known locally as Rolly, makes its way across Luzon on Sunday.
Last week, 22 people were killed as Typhoon Molave cut a path across the same region where Goni is now powering through.
The national weather agency has warned that another tropical storm, called Atsani, is developing behind Goni, although it has not gathered as much strength. The Philippines is regularly struck by about 20 typhoons a year, and climate change has intensified the effects of these storms.
Catastrophic winds are predicted as the storm hits.
Typhoon Goni, expected to be the strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year, made landfall early Sunday with weather officials predicting “catastrophic wind damage” as it roared through the country.
The warning came as emergency response teams backed by the Philippine police and military scrambled to prepare. Winds were expected to be particularly strong in Catanduanes Province and other areas, Pagasa, the national weather agency, said in a tweet it posted Sunday morning.
“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 agency said in a separate advisory.
Goni has been classified as the strongest storm of the year so far, though it weakened somewhat before making landfall.
The center of its eye made landfall as a super typhoon at 4:50 a.m. in Catanduanes, an island province, Pagasa said. Its path was expected to take it through Luzon, the country’s most populous island, and Metro Manila, the country’s capital region.
On the front lines of the typhoon’s arrival, ‘roofs were flying.’
The governor of Albay Province, in the eastern Philippines not far from where Goni made landfall, described its arrival as “probably the strongest storm I have seen” in an interview with ANC, a Philippine cable TV station.
Gov. Al Francis Bichara, speaking from Legazpi, the capital of Albay, said that more than 150,000 resident had been evacuated to storm shelters ahead of landfall, but that he feared the shelters roofs could be torn off by the powerful winds.
“In our district, roofs were flying,” he said, adding that visibility had been reduced to about 50 yards.
Another concern, he added, was the possibility that the strong rains could dislodge lahar, a violent form of pyroclastic mudflow, from the sides of Mount Mayon, a nearby volcano that looms over the city.
Images on social media showed some roads in the province turned into rivers of rainfall.
Goni had sustained winds of 135 miles per hour at its center and gusts of 165 miles per hour as of early Sunday, prompting the Joint Typhoon Warning Center to categorize the storm as a super typhoon.
The eye of the storm was expected to pass near Metro Manila, the capital region and home to more than 24 million people.
“We are forecasting widespread destruction even if this does not turn out to become a super typhoon,” Ricardo Jalad, the chief of the government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said Saturday on state television.
Along with violent winds and torrential rain, storm surges along the coast were expected, the Philippine weather agency said.
Officials from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council on Sunday sent out a warning to the millions of Filipinos living in or near the path of Typhoon Goni to seek shelter.
“Based on the current projected track, an estimated population of 19.8 million are exposed to the typhoon within a 60-kilometer diameter and 31.9 million within a 100-kilometer diameter,” said Ricardo Jalad, an official with the national disaster agency.
But the news conference was aired on a cable TV station only available to subscribers who paid for it, highlighting the difficulty of getting emergency updates to large swaths of people since the closing of ABS-CBN, a news network that offered free TV and radio broadcasts.
The network fell afoul of President Rodrigo Duterte, who accused the network of bias. It ended its local coverage in August. Many Filipinos in remote provinces had seen the network as a lifeline as they struggled to cope with emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday, preparations for rescue and relief efforts were also announced at the news conference.
The chief of the armed forces, Gen. Gilbert Gapay, said some 4,000 soldiers, bolstered by 2,000 militiamen and thousands of other reservists, were mobilizing to help local officials in evacuating residents in the path of the typhoon.
Troops were also placed on red alert status to maximize the availability of military personnel in preparation for the possible devastation caused by Goni, the general said.
”We are closely working with local officials and we have activated our joint disaster task force,” he added.
A spokesman for the Philippine Coast Guard, Commodore Armand Balilo, said that Coast Guards teams had been assisting officials in Manila in relocating people out of harm’s way, including asking fishermen to shelter their boats in case of storm surges.
Climate change is exacerbating the Philippines’ exposure to natural disasters.
The Philippines is situated on the so-called Ring of Fire, a seismically active swathe encircling the Pacific Ocean that is vulnerable to earthquakes and volcanoes. Typhoons regularly batter the Philippine archipelago, packed with more than 100 million people.
Deadly floods and landslides are common. And now climate change is exacerbating the Philippines’ weakness to natural disasters, making it one of the most vulnerable countries on the planet, scientists say.
As sea-surface temperatures rise, the Philippines’ positioning in warm ocean waters means the country is being subjected to both bigger and more frequent tropical storms. Residents of low-lying, densely populated slums, such as those on the outskirts of Manila, the capital, are particularly exposed. So are miners and farmers who excavate and till mountainous earth, creating slippery, muddy conditions in which torrents of soil bury people alive.
Mass deforestation, including the destruction of mangroves along the coastlines, has torn away natural barriers to wind and water.
The Asian Development Bank says that more than 23,000 people in the Philippines died from natural hazards from 1997 to 2016.
“Climate change is a big international idea but we are facing this on the local level and we aren’t equipped with enough progressive vision for it,” said Dakila Kim P. Yee, a sociologist at the University of the Philippines Visayas Tacloban College.
But the country has honed a resilient national character because of its disaster-prone condition, Mr. Yee said.
After Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful tropical storms on record, churned across the Philippines in 2013, killing more than 6,300 people, local governments began drawing up better evacuation plans.
But the coronavirus has complicated the current disaster response, Mr. Yee said. Displaced residents may fear the contagion spreading in typhoon evacuation centers, and some evacuation centers were converted earlier into Covid-19 quarantine facilities.
The Philippines, a country prone to typhoons, braces for the 18th of the year.
Goni, the 18th typhoon to strike the Philippines this year, arrives just days after Typhoon Molave tore through the country, dumping heavy rain and causing significant flooding. Molave killed 22 people and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands before moving on to Vietnam, where it caused deadly landslides.
Mr. Jalad of the disaster management agency said that evacuations in areas threatened by Goni began on Friday. Nearly a million people in southern Luzon had already been evacuated as of Saturday, the agency reported.
Local officials could order forced evacuations if necessary, Mr. Jalad said.
“If they see that their constituents are facing danger, they are empowered to carry out forced evacuations with the help of the Philippine National Police and other uniformed services,” Mr. Jalad said. There had been “avoidable casualties” during Typhoon Molave, he added, because some people had ignored warnings.
The Philippines is hit by at least 20 tropical storms and typhoons every year, some of them deadly. Thousands were killed in November 2013 when Super Typhoon Haiyan tore through the central Philippines.
Aid and rescue services are getting ready.
The Philippine Red Cross has stationed rescue vehicles and emergency response teams across Luzon.
“We are determined to do all we can to help these communities prepare for the oncoming storm,” said Richard Gordon, the Red Cross chairman.
He said the disasters complicated the country’s response to Covid-19, which has infected more than 370,000 people and killed 7,185. Evacuation centers can make social distancing more challenging than usual.
The Philippine military said that it, too, had deployed emergency response units in areas expected to be hit by the typhoon.
Jason Gutierrez reported from Manila, and Hannah Beech from Bangkok.