Approaching Philippine typhoon brings back nightmares in central region devastated by Haiyan

By , on December 4, 2014

The devastation left by super typhoon 'Haiyan.' Richard Whitcombe / Shutterstock
The devastation left by super typhoon ‘Haiyan.’ Richard Whitcombe / Shutterstock

MANILA, Philippines—Villagers fled coastal homes and sparked panic-buying in grocery stores and gas stations in the central Philippines on Thursday as an approaching powerful storm brought back nightmares of last year’s deadly onslaught from Typhoon Haiyan.

Government forecasters said Typhoon Hagupit, which was packing sustained winds of 195 kilometres (122 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 230 kph (143 mph), may hit Eastern Samar province on Saturday and barrel inland along the same route where Haiyan levelled villages and left more than 7,300 dead and missing in November last year.

Haiyan survivor Emily Sagales said many of her still-edgy neighbours in central Tacloban city, which was ravaged by Haiyan, packed their clothes and fled to a sports stadium and safer homes of relatives. Long lines formed at grocery stores and gas stations as residents hoarded basic goods, she said.

“The trauma has returned,” the 23-year-old Sagales said. In the wake of last year’s typhoon, which killed her mother-in-law and destroyed her home, she gave birth to a baby girl in a crowded makeshift clinic filled with the injured and the dying near the Tacloban airport.

“It’s worse now because I didn’t have a baby to worry about last year,” said Sagales.

Haiyan had demolished about 1 million houses and displaced about 4 million people in the central Philippines. Hundreds of residents still in tents in Tacloban were prioritized in the ongoing evacuation.

Hotels in Tacloban, which barely recovered from the massive damage, were running out of rooms as wealthier families booked ahead for the weekend.

“The sun is still shining but people are obviously scared. Almost all of our rooms have been booked,” said Roan Florendo of the hilltop Leyte Park hotel, which lies near San Pedro Bay in Tacloban.

The government put the military on full alert, workers opened evacuation centres and transported food packs to far-flung villages, which could be cut off by heavy rains.

In Manila, President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday led an emergency meeting of disaster-response agencies and ordered steps to prevent panic-buying and hoarding of goods.

He checked on how many Philippine air force C-130 cargo planes were available for possible emergency flights, inquired about the readiness of hospitals and what police plan to do to maintain law and order and prevent the looting that erupted in Tacloban in the initial hours after Haiyan swamped the city last year.

The approaching typhoon “presents a challenge but, I think, we’ve been challenged worse by Yolanda,” Aquino told officials, referring to Haiyan’s local name.

“I’d like everybody to become a busybody,” Aquino said during the nationally televising meeting. While warning villagers about the danger, he urged officials to avoid causing unnecessary alarm.

As the meeting progressed, Aquino was told that the typhoon has further strengthened.

Some towns in Hagupit’s predicted path said they will shut schools on Friday. Officials also decided to move the venue of a meeting next week of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which was to be attended by hundreds of diplomats from 21 member economies, from Albay province, which could be lashed by the typhoon, to the capital, Manila, which forecasters say will likely be spared.