Strong typhoon slams into pandemic-hit Philippines, making social distancing ‘almost impossible’

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A strong typhoon has hit the Philippines after authorities evacuated tens of thousands of people while trying to avoid the coronavirus (Covid-19) risks of overcrowding emergency shelters.

The first typhoon to hit the country this year rapidly gained force as it blew from the Pacific then barged ashore in San Policarpio town in Eastern Samar province around noon local time, weather agency administrator Vicente Malano said.

The typhoon came as the Philippines is trying to fight Covid-19 outbreaks largely by locking Filipinos in their homes and prohibiting gatherings that can set off infections. More than 11,600 infections, including 772 deaths, have been reported in the country.

Workers fold up a billboard to prepare for the coming of typhoon Vongfong
Workers fold up a billboard to prepare for the coming of typhoon Vongfong (AP/Aaron Favila)

Typhoon Vongfong, which has maximum sustained winds of 93 miles per hour and gusts of up to 115 mph, was forecast to blow northwestward and barrel across densely populated eastern provinces and cities before exiting in the north on 17 May.

Overcrowding in emergency shelters is a common scene in the archipelago hit by about 20 typhoons and storms annually and regularly experiencing volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

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Many officials faced a difficult dilemma on how to shield villagers from the double threats. Video showed fierce rain and wind swaying coconut trees, rattling tin roofs and obscuring visibility in Eastern Samar, where some towns lost power.

Jipapad is a town in the typhoon’s path which is prone to landslides and flooding. The town in Eastern Samar province is surrounded by mountains and two rivers that often swell in storms.

The only evacuation centres for its 8,000 villagers are a gymnasium and the town hall where residents could be sheltered from the typhoon.

The town’s mayor Benjamin Ver, who is also its only doctor, said he has secured enough face masks to protect his villagers from the virus in the town hall when the typhoon hits.

Ver said observing social distancing “is almost impossible” if all the villagers are cramped in the town hall.

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