The world’s strongest storm this year killed at least seven people in the Philippines, while forcing about 390,000 more to evacuate before leaving land late Sunday.
Super Typhoon Goni ripped off roofs, felled trees and left thousands of homes without electricity in the Philippines’ main Luzon island. It made landfall in Catanduanes province before dawn Sunday, before weakening as it crossed several provinces. Goni is headed to the South China Sea where it will gather strength before hitting Vietnam.
“Goni is the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone” in history, said Jeff Masters, a meteorologist with Yale Climate Connections and co-founder of Weather Underground. The previous record was held by Super Typhoons Meranti and Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in 2016 and 2013 respectively. Goni is the world’s third category 5 storm this year, he said on Yale Climate Connections’ website.
At least seven people died in Albay province, with some of them swept away by flood from a ruptured dike, Governor Al Francis Bichara said in an interview with DZBB radio. Several people may have been buried alive after about 300 houses were covered by rocks in Guinobatan also in Albay, Rappler reported. Catanduanes province, where the storm first made landfall, remains without telecommunication and electricity, Senator and Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon said.
About 390,000 people were evacuated, according to the disaster risk-monitoring agency. Between 19 million and 31 million people could be affected by the storm, based on the population count in areas within its path, an agency spokesman said.
Authorities shut Manila’s international airport to aircraft for 24 hours from 10 a.m. local time Sunday, prompting Philippine Airlines and Cebu Air to cancel flights. Light railways in Manila suspended operations while Ayala Land Inc., one of the nation’s biggest builders, said all its shopping malls in Luzon are shut.
Goni’s maximum sustained winds have weakened to 165 kilometers an hour, while gusts slowed to 230 kilometers per hour after the typhoon’s third landfall in Quezon province at midday, down from 310 kilometers earlier Sunday, the Philippine weather bureau said in its 5 p.m. report. Dozens of areas, including Metro Manila, remain under the three lowest storm alerts in a five-level warning system.
The storm is moving westward at 25 kilometers per hour and will be out of mainland Luzon landmass tonight, the weather bureau said. The storm’s center is located about 70 kilometers south of Manila.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque asked people to observe social-distancing measures in evacuation centers to prevent the spread of Covid-19. After Indonesia, the Philippines has the highest number of coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia.
“The pandemic has made this much more complex, but we have been preparing for this situation,” Richard Gordon, a senator and chairman for Philippine Red Cross, said in a statement.
The cyclone comes days after Typhoon Molave lashed the Southeast Asian nation, leaving at least 22 dead and causing a minimum of 1.8 billion pesos of damage to crops, before heading to Vietnam. Goni is following a similar route.
The storm is currently the equivalent to a Category 1 hurricane on the U.S. five-step Saffir-Simpson scale and will need to overcome wind shear to strengthen as it makes its way toward Vietnam, said Maura Kelly, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.
Wind shear is when winds blow at different strengths or directions at varying altitudes and can damage a system’s structure.
An average of 20 cyclones pass through disaster-prone Philippines every year, which will likely complicate the nation’s fight against the coronavirus as hundreds of thousands of people are evacuated from typhoon-hit areas. In 2013, Haiyan struck the Southeast Asian nation and killed more than 6,300 people.
More than 242,000 hectares of land planted with rice and with equivalent production of 1.07 million metric tons have been saved due to early warning, the Department of Agriculture said in a statement Sunday.
The storm can have a “high humanitarian impact,” the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System said on its website, adding that nearly 50 million people are at risk.
Another typhoon, Atsani, entered the Philippines on Sunday afternoon and may hit the northern tip of Luzon later this week, according to the weather bureau.
“The damage is extensive,” Christopher Dy-Liacco Flores, former mayor of Guinobatan town in Albay, said by Facebook Messenger. Flooding reached 16 feet deep. “Bridges have been washed away, flood control structures destroyed. Electric poles have fallen, roads destroyed and our agriculture is ruined.”
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