Wide swath of the Philippines carry out evacuations, brace for dangerously erratic typhoon

By , , on December 5, 2014

Satellite image courtesy of DOST-PAGASA
Satellite image courtesy of DOST-PAGASA

MANILA, Philippines—A wide swathe of the Philippines, including the bustling capital Manila, braced Friday as a dangerously erratic and powerful typhoon approached from the Pacific, officials said.

Typhoon Hagupit—Filipino for “smash”—strengthened overnight with its sustained winds intensifying to 215 kilometres (134 miles) per hour with gusts of 250 kph (155 mph) over the Pacific, 450 kilometres (280 miles) from the country’s eastern coast.

The local weather agency PAGASA’s forecasts show it may hit Eastern Samar province late Saturday or early Sunday then barrel inland along the same route where Typhoon Haiyan levelled villages and left more than 7,300 dead and missing in November last year.

But a forecast by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii said Hagupit (pronounced HA’-goo-pit) may veer northward after making landfall and possibly threaten Manila, which has population of more than 12 million people.

Hagupit’s erratic behaviour prompted the government to call an emergency meeting of mayors of metropolitan Manila to warn them to prepare, although local forecasters predict the typhoon will slice across the central Philippines like Haiyan did.

“We have alerted the people of Manila and we’re ready,” Mayor Joseph Estrada said, while acknowledging “these typhoons change direction all the time.”

Central Philippine regions, which were hammered by Haiyan, were busy evacuating thousands of people to safer areas, including Tacloban city, where the new typhoon has triggered panic-buying in grocery stores and gas stations and brought back nightmares of last year’s deadly onslaught.

Haiyan survivor Emily Sagales said many of her still-edgy neighbours in Tacloban 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 stocked up on basic goods, she said.

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

Hotels in Tacloban, a city of more than 200,000 people still struggling to recover from last year’s massive damage, were running out of rooms as wealthier families booked ahead for the weekend.

The government put the military on full alert, workers opened evacuation centres and transported food packs, medicines and body bags 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.

The government 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 said on Thursday will likely be spared.