Nearly 100,000 people have been forced to flee their homes after a powerful typhoon slammed into the southeastern Philippines.
Typhoon Rai is battering the country with gusts of up to 143mph, and high-risk areas could be devastated by flash floods, landslides and tidal surges, officials say.
‘This monster storm is frightening and threatens to hit coastal communities like a freight train,’ said Alberto Bocanegra, local head of the International Federation of the Red Cross.
The tropical cyclone, known locally as Typhoon Odette, blew in from the Pacific Ocean and made landfall in Siargao Island in the early hours this morning.
No deaths or injuries have been reported so far. Footage shows the military and coastguard helping residents stranded by rapidly rising waters.
In one video, rescue workers can be seen saving a one-month-old baby from the floods, floating the child in a bucket as they wade through shoulder-deep water.
One resident on Leyte island told Metro he is terrified and taking shelter. His electricity has been cut off and he is keeping watch as the waters rise.
‘I’m scared because here in the Philippines it’s night time and so dark we can’t see if the water is going up,’ he said.
‘Luckily me and my family are safe. I’m the only one awake to stay alert if the water rises.’
Disaster response officials said about 10,000 villages lie in the path of the typhoon, which is one of the strongest to strike the country this year.
Eight regions in the central and southern group of islands in the Visayas and Mindanao areas – home to more than 30million people – have been placed under the highest level of alert.
The coastguard said it had grounded all vessels, stranding nearly 4,000 passengers and cargo ship workers in dozens of southern and central ports.
Many flights have been cancelled and schools and workplaces have been shut in the most vulnerable areas.
More than 98,000 people have been taken to safety, the Philippines’ disaster response agency said.
The typhoon is also disrupting the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Philippines is among the worst-hit nations in Southeast Asia, with more than 2.8million confirmed Covid infections and over 50,000 deaths.
A vaccination drive has had to be halted in provinces set to experience stormy weather.
Crowding in evacuation centres is also making it hard to keep people safely distanced after the authorities detected the country’s first cases of the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
Ben Evardone, governor of Eastern Samar province, said he had suspended vaccinations in his region of nearly half a million people due to the typhoon.
He warned some vaccines stored in Eastern Samar will expire in a few months.
Mr Evardone said overcrowding is unavoidable in the limited number of evacuation centres in his province, where more than 32,000 people have been moved to safety.
‘It’s impossible to observe social distancing, it will be really be tough,’ he said.
‘What we do is we cluster evacuees by families. We don’t mix different people in the same place as a precaution.’
About 20 storms and typhoons batter the Philippines each year. In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people and left 1.9 million homeless.
The archipelago is also located in the seismically active Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ region, making it one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world.
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