MANILA, Philippines – More than 700,000 people fled provinces in central Philippines amid threats of giant waves, floods, and landslides as powerful Typhoon Nona (international name Melor) approached the archipelago nation, officials said Monday, December 14.
Nona made landfall in Batag, Northern Samar, Monday morning, and was expected to hit land again in Sorsogon province in the evening.
The typhoon brushed the northern tip of Samar, a farming island of 1.5 million people early Monday, with winds gusting at 185 kilometers (115 miles) per hour, the state weather bureau PAGASA said. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damages.
Samar was among areas devastated in 2013 by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), when giant waves wiped out entire communities in several provinces, leaving 7,350 people dead or missing.
Authorities warned that Melor’s powerful winds had the potential to whip up 4-meter (13-feet) high waves, blow off tin roofs, and uproot trees while heavy rains within its 300-kilometer diameter could trigger floods and landslides.
In Albay province alone, almost 600,000 people were evacuated due to fears that heavy rains could cause mudslides on the slopes of nearby Mayon Volcano, according to the national disaster monitoring office.
Albay is the province known for its exemplary disaster preparedness program. It always does preventive evacuation by the hundreds of thousands.
Residents carrying bags of clothes and water jugs clambered onto army trucks in Albay’s Legazpi City, as authorities sounded an evacuation alarm, according to an Agence France-Presse photographer at the scene. Huge waves crashed into the city’s deserted boulevard as palm trees swayed amid strong winds.
An additional 130,000 people were also evacuated in nearby Sorsogon. The latest typhoon is expected to cut across the country’s central heartlands in the early hours of Tuesday, December 15, before heading out to the South China Sea in the west.
In the town of Naval in Biliran Island, Eastern Visayas, residents living near the coast were evacuated to the town’s gymnasium early Monday morning. In the other coastal town of Cabucgayan, residents were also evacuated.
In Masbate, Hernando Dorongan of the provincial government said that their operations center was active. They also prepared relief goods and prepositioned these in strategic areas.
Governor Vicente Revil, Chairman of the Masbate Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, issued an executive order suspending classes in all levels for Monday and Tuesday.
Mary Cris Barlizo, Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officer of Pio Corpuz town, also in Masbate, reported that their municipal disaster council was convened on December 13, while instructions were sent to village leaders to prepare for Typhoon Nona.
The government had prepared more than 200,000 food packs and other emergency items ahead of the storm’s landfall, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman told DZMM radio.
The Philippines is battered by an average of 20 typhoons annually.
Typhoon Lando (international name Koppu), the last deadly storm to hit the country, killed 54 people and forced tens of thousands others to flee their homes after it pummelled the northern Philippines in October.
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The Philippine government is increasing its reliance on local communities and towns to be prepared for typhoons. It recently launched “Operation Listo,” a checklist of disaster preparedness practices for local town leaders to implement. But many remote communities in the archipelago still lack access to communication lines and power, even during fair weather. – with a report from Lou Gepuela/Rappler.com