Typhoon Rai lashes Philippines as tens of thousands forced to flee

Fears mount that winds will intensify and wreak more havoc

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Tens of thousands of people in the Philippines have fled their homes and beachfront resorts as a powerful typhoon lashed the archipelago on Thursday.

Authorities say more destructive winds and torrential rain could follow.

Typhoon Rai was driven by powerful winds as it barrelled towards central and southern regions of the vast archipelago, the state weather agency said.

It said the storm made landfall at 1.30pm local time on Siargao Island, with sustained winds of 185kph and gusts of up to 230kph.

"Destructive typhoon-force winds ... may bring moderate to heavy damage to structures and vegetation," the weather agency said.

More than 45,000 people have sought emergency shelter as the storm charged across the Pacific Ocean, the national disaster agency said. Officials said about 10,000 villages lie in the projected path of the typhoon, which has a 400-km-wide rain band and is one of the strongest to hit the country this year.

Those felling included domestic tourists visiting the country's famous beaches and diving spots. Foreign travellers are still banned from entering the Philippines under Covid-19 restrictions.

The Philippines is among the hardest-hit countries by the pandemic in South-east Asia, with confirmed infections of more than 2.8 million and more than 50,000 deaths.

Crowding in evacuation centres was complicating efforts to keep people safely distanced after health authorities detected the country’s first infections caused by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Visual tracking of Typhoon Rai at the Quezon City Emergency Operations Centre in Metro Manila. EPA

The typhoon has led to scores of flights being cancelled and dozens of ports temporarily closed as the weather bureau said several metre-high storm surges in the sea could cause "life-threatening flooding" in low-lying coastal areas.

Several southern and central provinces were on typhoon alert. Residents were warned to stay away from coastal and low-lying villages and other high-risk areas due to possible flash floods, landslides and tidal surges in or near the typhoon’s path.

The coastguard said it has prohibited sea voyages in high-risk regions, leaving about 4,000 passengers and ferry and cargo ship workers stranded. Coastguard personnel and boats were on standby, it said.

Rai, locally named Odette, arrived late in the typhoon season, with most cyclones developing between July and October. It is expected to sweep across the Visayas region and Mindanao and Palawan islands, before arriving over the South China Sea on Saturday and heading towards Vietnam.

The Philippines – ranked as one of the world's most vulnerable places to the effects of a warming planet – is lashed by an average of 20 storms and typhoons every year, which typically wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure in already impoverished areas.

Updated: December 16, 2021, 9:29 AM