‘Catastrophic winds’ are predicted as the storm hits.
Typhoon Goni, expected to be the strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year, made landfall early Sunday with weather officials predicting “catastrophic wind damage” as it roared through the country.
The warning came as emergency response teams backed by the Philippine police and military scrambled to prepare. Winds were expected to be particularly strong in Catanduanes Province and other areas, Pagasa, the national weather agency, said in a tweet it posted Sunday morning.
“Within the next 12 hours, catastrophic violent winds and intense to torrential rainfall associated with the region of the eyewall and inner rain bands of the typhoon will be experienced,” the agency said in a separate advisory.
Goni has been classified as the strongest storm of the year so far, though it weakened somewhat before making landfall.
The center of its eye made landfall as a super typhoon at 4:50 a.m. in Catanduanes, an island province, Pagasa said. Its path was expected to take it through Luzon, the country’s most populous island, and Metro Manila, the country’s capital region.
On the front lines of the typhoon’s arrival, ‘roofs were flying.’
The governor of Albay Province, in the eastern Philippines not far from where Goni made landfall, described its arrival as “probably the strongest storm I have seen” in an interview with ANC, a Philippine cable TV station.
Gov. Al Francis Bichara, speaking from Legazpi, the capital of Albay, said that more than 150,000 resident had been evacuated to storm shelters ahead of landfall, but that he feared the shelters roofs could be torn off by the powerful winds.
Images on social media showed some roads in the province turned into rivers of rainfall.
“In our district, roofs were flying,” he said, adding that visibility had been reduced to about 50 yards.
Another concern, he added, was the possibility that the strong rains could dislodge lahar, a violent form of pyroclastic mudflow, from the sides of Mount Mayon, a nearby volcano that looms over the city.
‘Super’ or not, the typhoon is expected to cause large-scale destruction.
Typhoon Goni had sustained winds of 135 miles per hour at its center and gusts of 165 miles per hour as of early Sunday, prompting the Joint Typhoon Warning Center to categorize the storm as a super typhoon.
The eye of the storm — which Philippine officials are calling Typhoon Rolly under their separate naming system — was expected to pass near Metro Manila, the capital region and home to more than 24 million people.
“We are forecasting widespread destruction even if this does not turn out to become a super typhoon,” Ricardo Jalad, the chief of the government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said Saturday on state television.
Along with violent winds and torrential rain, storm surges along the coast were expected, the Philippine weather agency said.
Goni, the 18th typhoon to strike the Philippines this year, arrives just days after Typhoon Molave tore through the country, dumping heavy rain and causing significant flooding. Molave killed 22 people and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands before moving on to Vietnam, where it caused deadly landslides.
Mr. Jalad of the disaster management agency said that evacuations in areas threatened by Goni began on Friday. Nearly a million people in southern Luzon had already been evacuated as of Saturday, the agency reported.
Local officials could order forced evacuations if necessary, Mr. Jalad said.
“If they see that their constituents are facing danger, they are empowered to carry out forced evacuations with the help of the Philippine National Police and other uniformed services,” Mr. Jalad said. There had been “avoidable casualties” during Typhoon Molave, he added, because some people had ignored warnings.
The Philippines is hit by at least 20 tropical storms and typhoons every year, some of them deadly. Thousands were killed in November 2013 when Super Typhoon Haiyan tore through the central Philippines.
Climate change is exacerbating the Philippines’ exposure to natural disasters.
The Philippines is situated on the so-called Ring of Fire, a seismically active swathe encircling the Pacific Ocean that is vulnerable to earthquakes and volcanoes. Typhoons regularly batter the Philippine archipelago, packed with more than 100 million people.
Deadly floods and landslides are common. And now climate change is exacerbating the Philippines’ weakness to natural disasters, making it one of the most vulnerable countries on the planet, scientists say.
As sea-surface temperatures rise, the Philippines’ positioning in warm ocean waters means the country is being subjected to both bigger and more frequent tropical storms. Residents of low-lying, densely populated slums, such as those on the outskirts of Manila, the capital, are particularly exposed. So are miners and farmers who excavate and till mountainous earth, creating slippery, muddy conditions in which torrents of soil bury people alive.
Mass deforestation, including the destruction of mangroves along the coastlines, has torn away natural barriers to wind and water.
The Asian Development Bank says that more than 23,000 people in the Philippines died from natural hazards from 1997 to 2016.
“Climate change is a big international idea but we are facing this on the local level and we aren’t equipped with enough progressive vision for it,” said Dakila Kim P. Yee, a sociologist at the University of the Philippines Visayas Tacloban College.
But the country has honed a resilient national character because of its disaster-prone condition, Mr. Yee said.
After Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful tropical storms on record, churned across the Philippines in 2013, killing more than 6,300 people, local governments began drawing up better evacuation plans.
But the coronavirus has complicated the current disaster response, Mr. Yee said. Displaced residents may fear the contagion spreading in typhoon evacuation centers, and some evacuation centers were converted earlier into Covid-19 quarantine facilities.
Aid and rescue services are getting ready.
The Philippine Red Cross has stationed rescue vehicles and emergency response teams across Luzon.
“We are determined to do all we can to help these communities prepare for the oncoming storm,” said Richard Gordon, the Red Cross chairman.
He said the disasters complicated the country’s response to Covid-19, which has infected more than 370,000 people and killed 7,185. Evacuation centers can make social distancing more challenging than usual.
The Philippine military said that it, too, had deployed emergency response units in areas expected to be hit by the typhoon.