Manila: Super Typhoon Goni barrelled into the southern part of the Philippines’ main Luzon island with “catastrophic violent winds and heavy torrential rains” on Sunday, triggering flash floods and mudslides that killed at least four people.
The typhoon, which made landfall in Catanduanes island province in the Bicol region before dawn on Sunday, has weakened, but it still left a trail of destruction in 12 out of the 17 areas in the Philippines.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said that between 19 million and 31 million people in the Philippines, about a quarter of the country’s whole population, could be affected by Super Typhoon Goni.
Albay province Governor Al Francis Bichara said his office has accounted for four deaths so far — three, including a four-year-old child, died from a swollen river, and a fallen tree pinned one. The fierce wind ripped off the roof of an evacuation centre, he added.
Initial media reports said the typhoon destroyed houses, toppled trees and power posts in Albay province.
A man from Guinobatan town said a river of his city overflowed and caused flooding in nearby areas. “At the height of the flood, it was 16-feet deep. Other areas fared worse,” he said.
“We have not gone out yet, and we expect the damage is much worse,” he added.
The Philippines’s weather bureau, PAGASA, said that local flooding is occurring in low-lying, agricultural, and urban areas with inadequate drainage systems in the provinces of Albay and Camarines Sur.
The typhoon also flooded the Cagsawa ruins national park, a favourite tourist destination in Daraga town in Albay province, with the picture-perfect cone-shaped Mayon volcano in the background.
Undersecretary Ricardo Jalad, the executive director of NDRRMC, said in an online briefing that nearly 347,000 people in areas prone to flooding and landslide in Metro Manila, the Bicol region, central Luzon provinces, southeast of Manila, and the eastern Visayas in the central Philippines were evacuated.
Goni intensified into a super typhoon almost three hours before hitting land in Bato town in Catanduanes province, an island in the southeastern part of Luzon around 4.50 am.
The bureau said Goni, blowing at a speed of 225 km per hour near the centre and with gustiness of up to 310 km per hour, made the second landfall in Tiwi town in Albay province around 7.20 am.
At 8 am, the bureau said Goni weakened into a typhoon as it blew towards the provinces of Marinduque and Quezon. Goni is forecast to weaken as it cuts through the sections of Batangas and Cavite before heading to the South China Sea on Sunday night, the bureau added.
The Philippine Coast Guard ordered dozens of ports closed after the government imposed a “no sail policy,” leaving travellers stranded.
Airport authorities also shut down Manila’s international airport for 24 hours from 10 am on Sunday.
In Manila, officials issued orders to take big roadside advertising boards down, fearing strong winds could knock them down and injure people.
Super Typhoon Goni, the 18th cyclone to hit the Philippines this year, struck close to the regions hit by Typhoon Molave earlier this week, which killed 22 people and destroyed infrastructure and crops.
Meanwhile, the state weather bureau said it is also tracking Tropical Depression Atsani churning in the Pacific Ocean, 1,365 km east of southern Luzon.
The cyclones hit as the Philippines grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Philippines now has 383,113 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 348,760 recoveries and 7,238 deaths.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque said in an online briefing that the COVID-19 patients and health workers in temporary treatment and monitoring facilities in Manila were moved to hotel isolation facilities to ensure their safety. The COVID-19 patients and staff in Albay province were transferred to daycare centres, public schools, and evacuation centres, he added.
Duque urged the public to continue practising minimum public health standards to prevent transmission of the COVID-19 in their homes and evacuation centres.
Typhoons and tropical storms regularly hit the Philippines from June through December, claiming hundreds of lives and causing damages worth billions of US dollars.
Typhoon Haiyan, one of the country’s worst, killed over 7,000 in the central Philippines in November 2013. Thousands of residents in Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province, drowned in a “two-story-high” storm surge, including people seeking safety in a sports stadium that served as a shelter.
Located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines is among the most disaster-prone countries in the world, including active volcanoes, frequent earthquakes, and an average of 20 typhoons a year, causing floods and landslides.
The Philippines lost 463 billion pesos (roughly 9.56 billion US dollars) in damages to natural disasters from 2010 to 2019, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.