More than 150,000 people yesterday were riding out a weakening typhoon in emergency shelters in the Philippines after a mass evacuation that was complicated and slowed by the COVD-19 pandemic.
Typhoon Vongfong has weakened after slamming ashore into Eastern Samar province on Thursday and was blowing northwestward toward the populous northern island of Luzon, government forecasters said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage as authorities surveyed regions where the typhoon passed.
The typhoon’s maximum sustained wind had weakened to 125kph with gusts of 165kph, but it remained dangerous especially in coastal and low-lying villages, forecasters said, adding that Vongfong was expected to blow out of the country’s north tomorrow.
In the northeastern Bicol region, more than 145,000 villagers have fled or were moved by disaster response teams to dozens of emergency shelters, mostly school buildings, Philippine Office of Civil Defense Director Claudio Yucot said.
Thousands more were evacuated to safety in the outlying provinces of Samar, where the typhoon first blew over, officials said.
Unlike before, rescuers and volunteers needed to wear masks and protective suits before deployment and could not transport villagers to emergency shelters in large numbers as a safeguard against COVID-19, Yucot said.
“Our ease of movement has been limited by COVID-19,” Yucot said by telephone from Albay province in the Bicol region, which has had dozens of COVID-19 infections, including four deaths, and remains under quarantine. “In the evacuation centers, there are more challenges.”
In an evacuation room, which could shelter up to 40 families before, only four families could be accommodated as a safeguard against infections — and the occupants should know each other and were required to report any infected villager, Yucot added.
The coast guard said that more than 600 cargo truck drivers and workers were stranded due to the suspension of sea travel in several eastern ports, where 340 cargo ships were barred from leaving due to the typhoon.
All were required to wear protective masks and prohibited from mingling.
The typhoon hit as the Philippines struggles to deal with coronavirus outbreaks, largely with a lockdown in Luzon that is to be eased this weekend, except in Metro Manila and two other high-risk areas.
The rest of the country is to be placed in less restrictive quarantine, and crucial businesses are to partially reopen next week.
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