Typhoon Vongfong roars toward Philippines as coronavirus makes evacuations tricky

A strong typhoon roared toward the eastern Philippines on Thursday as authorities work to evacuate tens of thousands of people while avoiding overcrowding in shelters that could spread the coronavirus.

The first typhoon to hit the country this year is expected to slam ashore later Thursday, weather agency administrator Vicente Malano said.

The Philippines was bracing for the typhoon while trying to fight COVID-19 outbreaks largely by locking Filipinos in their homes and prohibiting gatherings that can set off infections. More than 11,600 infections, including 772 deaths, have been reported in the country.

Typhoon Vongfong was last spotted 230 kilometers (143 miles) off Northern Samar province with maximum sustained winds of 150 kilometers per hour (93 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 185 kph (115 mph).

Overcrowding in emergency shelters is a common scene in the archipelago hit by about 20 typhoons and storms annually and regularly experiencing volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

Many officials faced a difficult dilemma on how to shield villagers from the double threats.

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“This is very complicated,” Mayor Benjamin Ver of a town in the typhoon’s path told The Associated Press by telephone.

Far-flung Jipapad is prone to landslides and flooding. The town in Eastern Samar province is surrounded by mountains and planked by two rivers that often swell in storms. The only evacuation centers for its 8,000 villagers are a gymnasium and the town hall where residents could be sheltered from the typhoon.

“If we used 10 school buildings before, we now need 20 to accommodate the evacuees with social distancing,” Ongchuan said.

The government weather agency warned that “along with large swells, this storm surge may cause potentially life-threatening coastal inundation” and added that sea travel would be dangerous in regions expected to be battered by Vongfong, a Vietnamese word for wasp.

Metropolitan Manila will not be hit directly by the storm but may be lashed by strong winds. Officials were advised to remove many medical quarantine tents set up outside hospitals that could be blown away, Malano said.

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