Tropical storm ruins Christmas for thousands of Filipinos

The Philippines is the first major landmass facing the Pacific cyclone belt. (File/AFP)
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Updated 24 December 2019

Tropical storm ruins Christmas for thousands of Filipinos

  • Officials on Christmas Eve said residents should evacuate coastal areas, and thousands more were stranded at ports with ferry services shut down
  • Strong winds and associated dangers like floods, landslides, and, more rarely, giant walls of seawater pounding the coasts kill scores of people each year

MANILA: Thousands of people in typhoon-prone central Philippines have had their Christmas plans ruined after they were told to leave their homes as a severe tropical storm approaches.
Officials on Christmas Eve said residents should evacuate coastal areas, and thousands more were stranded at ports with ferry services shut down as the nation hunkered down for rain and strong winds.
Damaging gale- to storm-force winds were forecast over the Asian nation’s Pacific coast in the afternoon ahead of Tropical Storm Phanfone’s projected landfall on Samar island as early as 5:00 p.m. (0900 GMT), the state weather service said.
Though much weaker, Phanfone was tracking a similar path as Super Typhoon Haiyan, the country’s deadliest cyclone on record which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.
All ships on the storm’s projected path through the central islands were ordered to stay in port, while local executives there told residents of the coasts as well as flood- and landslide-prone areas to move to safety.
“Some families are reluctant to evacuate because they want to celebrate Christmas at home, but local officials will force them out if they refuse to heed our warnings,” regional civil defense official Reyden Cabrigas told AFP.
Cabrigas, speaking by phone from the central city of Tacloban, said evacuations were underway there as well as nearby Samar, but added he did not immediately have a total count.
“We are aiming for zero casualties,” Cabrigas added.
More than 21,000 ferry passengers trying to get home for the mainly Catholic nation’s Christmas holidays have been stranded at ports as shipping shut down, the coast guard said Tuesday.
Local carriers also suspended dozens of domestic flights.
The state weather service said Phanfone, Laotian for “animal,” may strengthen into a typhoon with sustained peak winds of more than 120 kilometers (62 miles) an hour overnight Wednesday.
It advised residents, including those in Manila, to stay indoors on Christmas Day to avoid the high winds which can cause damage to weaker structures.
The Philippines is the first major landmass facing the Pacific cyclone belt, and the archipelago gets hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, putting millions of people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.
Strong winds and associated dangers like floods, landslides, and, more rarely, giant walls of seawater pounding the coasts kill scores of people each year, wipe out farmers’ harvests and destroy infrastructure.
Homes built with flimsy materials, as well as populated areas along the coasts, floodplains, and mountainous interiors, are often the most vulnerable.


Jakarta imposes partial lockdown as virus cases surge

Updated 37 sec ago

Jakarta imposes partial lockdown as virus cases surge

  • Violators face heavy fines and up to a year in jail for breaking the new rules
  • Jakarta city data showed some 776 suspected and confirmed victims had been buried in local cemeteries
JAKARTA: Soldiers and police hit the streets of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta Friday to enforce its toughest social-distancing rules yet as coronavirus infections surge and critics warn of a looming public-health disaster.
Violators face heavy fines and up to a year in jail for breaking the new rules, which include a ban on gatherings of more than five people, limiting restaurants to online delivery orders and reducing public transport.
Motorbike taxis seen everywhere in the megacity of some 30 million were banned from picking up passengers and residents were ordered to stay home.
“I’ve been checking my smartphone all day but no orders so far,” said Embari, a ride-hailing driver who goes by one name.
“I know drivers can’t pick up passengers but I was hoping for some food delivery calls.”
Mosques and other houses of worship were ordered to shut for at least the next two weeks — after millions continued to attend Friday prayers in the Muslim majority nation, despite calls to worship at home.
President Joko Widodo declared a state of emergency last month as coronavirus deaths in the world’s fourth most populous country jumped.
But he resisted calls for a nationwide lockdown fearing a collapse in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, where tens of millions eke out a living on poorly-paid, informal jobs.
Indonesia’s government has faced heavy criticism over its handling of the crisis and questions about the true number of deaths.
Officially, 280 people have died of the respiratory illness with 3,293 confirmed cases as of Thursday in the archipelago of more than 260 million.
That is the highest death toll for an Asian nation outside China.
But testing rates are among the lowest in the world and there are fears the number of dead could be much higher.
Jakarta city data showed some 776 suspected and confirmed victims had been buried in local cemeteries under COVID-19 protocols requiring bodies to be wrapped in plastic and quickly buried.
That is more than five times the official 142 dead in Jakarta, the epicenter of the outbreak in Indonesia.
Officials have admitted data collection among different jurisdictions is patchy and incomplete.
“The Indonesian government needs to ramp up testing to know the true extent of the coronavirus outbreak in the country,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The authorities should also uphold the right to information and provide accurate statistics to the public.”
Indonesia’s spy agency has projected some 95,000 infections by June.
A bleak assessment by the University of Indonesia’s public health department warned that the country could see a death toll of more than 240,000 if testing and quarantines are not ramped up.