Evacuations in Philippines as typhoon threatens SEA Games

Spectators wave their flags during the opening ceremony for the 30th Southeast Asian Games on Saturday, November 30, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 01 December 2019

Evacuations in Philippines as typhoon threatens SEA Games

  • Organizers have said there are contingency plans in place for a typhoon, including possible cancelations of outdoor events of the Games
  • Around 8,750 athletes and team officials are expected at this year’s 30th edition

CLARK, Philippines: The Philippines has begun evacuating thousands of people, local officials said Sunday, as a powerful typhoon rumbled in off the Pacific, bringing heavy rain, strong winds and threatening SEA Games venues.
Forecasters expect Typhoon Kammuri to hit Monday evening or Tuesday morning, packing gusts of 170 kilometers per hour and maximum sustained winds of 140 kph.
The storm entered Philippine territory Saturday evening, shortly before President Rodrigo Duterte and boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao launched the Games with a colorful opening ceremony.
This year’s Games in Clark, Manila and Subic, which run through to December 11, are particularly complex with a record 56 sports across dozens of venues that are in some cases hours apart by car, even before Manila’s notorious gridlock traffic is factored in.
Organizers have said there are contingency plans in place for a typhoon, including possible cancelations of outdoor events of the Games, which are mostly in the main Philippine island of Luzon in the country’s north.
Some local government units in central Bicol region have started evacuating people.
More than 800 families (about 3,000 to 4,000 people) are already in evacuation centers, mostly in schools and gymnasiums in Camarines Norte, the disaster management office of the province said.
Local officials were still evacuating some areas so the number was expected to rise, the office added.
Most of those evacuated live in coastal areas and low-lying places where flash floods and landslides are possible due to heavy rains that will be brought by the typhoon.
These are all preemptive evacuations and no mandatory evacuation has been ordered yet, the disaster management office said.
School classes and work in the government in some towns have also been suspended for Monday and Tuesday in anticipation of the heavy rains.
The Philippines, which last hosted the Games in 2005, are aiming to win the most medals, and history is on their side: seven of the last 11 SEA Games hosts have topped the table, reflecting the tradition of rewriting the sporting program to suit local strengths.
The hosts got off to a flying start on Sunday, scooping several golds at the Dancesport competition and topped the medal table shortly after 1:00 p.m. with 13 overall.
Around 8,750 athletes and team officials are expected at this year’s 30th edition — the biggest ever — and there are some 12,000 volunteers. Organizers hope more than 500 million viewers will tune in on TV.
In an eclectic program, Olympic sports like swimming and athletics sit side-by-side with regional favorites such as martial arts pencak silat, arnis and wushu, and this year athletes will even battle an obstacle race course in Manila.


Hong Kong police fire tear gas to break up anti-government protest

Updated 19 January 2020

Hong Kong police fire tear gas to break up anti-government protest

  • Hong Kong police intervened promptly when the rally turned into an impromptu march
  • The protests had lost some of their intensity in recent weeks

HONG KONG: Police fired tear gas on Sunday to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters who gathered in a central Hong Kong park, but later spilled onto the streets in violation of police orders.
Out in numbers before the demonstration began, police intervened promptly when the rally turned into an impromptu march. Several units of police in riot gear were seen chasing protesters and several arrests were made.
A water cannon truck drove on central streets, flanked by an armored jeep, but was not used.
Organizers initially applied for a permit for a march, but police only agreed to a static rally in the park, saying previous marches have turned violent.
Once protesters spilled onto the streets, some of them, wearing all-black clothing, barricaded the roads with umbrellas and street furniture, dug up bricks from the pavement and smashed traffic lights.
The “Universal Siege Against Communism” demonstration was the latest in a relentless series of protests against the government since June, when Hong Kongers took to the streets to voice their anger over a now-withdrawn extradition bill.
The protests, which have since broadened to include demands for universal suffrage and an independent investigation into police handling of the demonstrations, had lost some of their intensity in recent weeks.
In an apparent new tactic, police have been showing up ahead of time in riot gear, with officers conducting “stop and search” operations near expected demonstrations.
“Everyone understands that there’s a risk of stop-and-search or mass arrests. I appreciate Hong Kong people still come out courageously, despite the risk,” said organizer Ventus Lau.
On Jan 1, a march of tens of thousands of people ended with police firing tear gas to disperse crowds.
The gathering in the park was initially relaxed, with many families with children listening to speeches by activists.
In one corner, a group of volunteers set up a stand where people could leave messages on red cards for the lunar new year to be sent to those who have been arrested. One read: “Hong Kongers won’t give up. The future belongs to the youth”.
Authorities in Hong Kong have arrested more than 7,000 people, many on charges of rioting that can carry jail terms of up to 10 years. It is unclear how many are still in custody.
Anger has grown over the months due to perceptions that Beijing was tightening its grip over the city, which was handed over to China by Britain in 1997 in a deal that ensured it enjoyed liberties unavailable in the mainland.
Beijing denies meddling and blames the West for fomenting unrest.