MANILA: A powerful typhoon hit the central Philippines on Thursday, forcing an evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people who had been confined to their homes amid coronavirus lockdowns.
Typhoon Ambo (Vongfong) struck as Metro Manila and several other areas remain under community quarantine with nearly 11,900 people known to have contracted the virus and 790 to have succumbed to it.
With winds of up to 155 km/h near the center and gusts of up to 190 km/h, the typhoon made landfall over San Policarpo town in Eastern Samar at 12:15 p.m., the Philippine Atmospheric Geophys- ical and Astronomical (PAGASA) said, adding that the storm was bringing violent winds and heavy rain to the northern part of the province.
Heavy rain also hit parts of Northern Samar, Masbate, Sorsogon, Catanduanes, Albay, Camarines Sur, and the rest of Eastern Visayas.
On Friday, heavy to intense rains are expected over Bicol region, and moderate to heavy rains over Northern Samar, Quezon, Aurora, Marinduque, and Romblon.
Residents in the affected areas have been advised to take appropriate measures and listen for updates, as officials have warned that flooding and rain-induced landslides may be expected.
PAGASA said that within 24 hours, a storm surge of 2-4 meters may be experienced over the coastal areas of Northern Samar, Eastern Samar (east coast), Samar (west coast), Sorsogon, Albay, Catanduanes, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Quezon, and Aurora.
Amid the ongoing health crisis, the typhoon brings a further challenge to authorities responsible for enforcing social distancing measures at evacuation centers.
Eastern Samar Governor Ben Evardone said in a radio interview that most schools normally used as shelters have been converted into COVID-19 quarantine facilities, but said that evacuees would not be brought to these facilities.
In Northern Samar, Governor Edwin Ongchuan ordered a forced evacuation of 300,000 to 400,000 people.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Navy has directed its forces in Luzon island to implement disaster mitigation strategies and to monitor the situation for possible deployment and search and rescue operations as Ambo is expected to hit the largest and most populous island.
Police will work with regional disaster management councils to ensure public safety and enforce strict quarantine measures in the areas affected by Ambo, National Police Chief Gen. Archie Francisco F. Gamboa said.