Supertyphoon Goni pounded the Philippines on Sunday with authorities warning of catastrophic conditions in the region expected to take the hardest hit, where more than 300,000 have fled their homes.
The storm is the most powerful typhoon to make landfall on the islands since 2013, when Typhoon Haiyan killed at least 6,000 people.
The strongest typhoon of the year so far first affected Catanduanes Island at 4.50am local time with maximum sustained wind speeds of 225 kilometres per hour, the state weather forecaster said.
Over the next 12 hours, catastrophic violent winds and intense to torrential rainfall would be experienced in the Bicol region, which covers the southern end of the main island of Luzon and Catanduanes, it said.
“This a particularly dangerous situation for these areas.”
Most powerful typhoon of 2020 slams into the eastern Philippines
Goni, which intensified into a supertyphoon as it neared the Philippines, comes a week after Typhoon Molave hit the same region of the natural disaster-prone archipelago.
That storm killed 22 people and flooded low-lying villages and farmland, before crossing the South China Sea to Vietnam.
“The winds are fierce. We can hear the trees being pummelled. It’s very strong,” Francia Mae Borras, 21, told AFP from her home in the coastal city of Legazpi.
The roofs of two evacuation centres were ripped off by the force of the wind and the occupants moved to the ground floors, Albay provincial public safety chief Cedric Daep told DZBB radio station.
Civil Defence chief Ricardo Jalad said Saturday that almost a million people had fled their homes in the Bicol region.
But spokesman Alexis Naz said on Sunday that about 316,000 had moved to safety so far.
“We're seeing toppled trees outside our office. It’s really strong. The rain is intense,” Naz said.
“Our last contact with our people in Catanduanes was at 3.30am. They told us the rain and wind were really strong there. And then the system went down.”
Up to 31 million people were in Goni’s path, authorities said, including in Manila, where there are plans to evacuate residents from low-lying slum areas at risk of being inundated by storm surges several metres tall.
The capital’s airport has been closed.
Alarms blared from mobile phones as the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council issued an emergency alert warning of strong winds for Manila and surrounding provinces in the coming hours.
Authorities spent Saturday marshalling rescue vehicles, emergency response teams and relief goods before the storm’s arrival.
Flooding and landslides were possible as Goni dumped heavy rain across the already-soaked region, the weather service said.
Authorities were also monitoring two active volcanoes, Mayon and Taal, for possible volcanic mud flows.
Schools, which have been empty since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, are being used as emergency shelters, as are government-run evacuation centres and gyms.
Evacuating residential areas was more difficult at this time because of Covid-19, Naz earlier told the AFP news agency.
At least 1,000 Covid-19 patients are being moved, the national disaster agency said.
Mary Ann Echague, 23, and her family fled their home in Legazpi on Saturday to an inland primary school where they were sheltering in a classroom with several other families.
“We fear the wrath of the typhoon,” said Ms Echague, who was with her two children, parents and siblings. They had carried with them a portable stove, tinned meat, instant noodles, coffee, bread, blankets and pillows.
“Each time we’re hit by a typhoon our house gets damaged, since it’s made of wood and galvanised iron roofing,” she said.
Hundreds of people have been left stranded after the coastguard ordered ferries and fishing boats into port in expectation of rough seas throwing up 16-metre waves.
Goni is expected to weaken as it crosses southern Luzon and enters the South China Sea late on Sunday or early on Monday as a typhoon, the state forecaster said.
The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons every year, which typically wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure.