THOUSANDS of families fled their homes on Thursday as Super Typhoon Yolanda, the world’s strongest storm this year, started battering Eastern Visayas ahead of its expected landfall this morning in Guiuan, Eastern Samar or Abuyog, Leyte.
The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) placed the provinces of Eastern Samar, Samar, Leyte, Southern Leyte and Biliran under storm signal number 4. These areas face “very heavy” damage, including the toppling of major power and communications lines and the destruction of crops and infrastructure.
Powerful winds whipped more than a dozen provinces starting last night, sending thousands of people to evacuation centers.
“This is a very dangerous typhoon, local officials know where the vulnerable areas are and have given instructions on evacuations,” state weather forecaster Glaiza Escullar said.
“There are not too many mountains on its path to deflect the force of impact, making it more dangerous.”
The US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center said that Yolanda (international codename Haiyan) had maximum sustained winds on Thursday morning of 278 kilometers per hour (kph) and gusts of 333 kph.
On Thursday afternoon, the storm was tracked 543 kilometers southeast of Guiuan with winds of 215 kph and gusts of up to 350 kph.
Signal number 3 was raised over Nothern Samar, Masbate, Northern Cebu including Cebu City, Bantayan Island, Siargao Island and Dinagat Province.
Signal number 2 was up in Camiguin, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Bohol, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Aklan, Capiz, Antique, the rest of Cebu, Iloilo, Guimaras, Romblon, Sorsogon, Albay and Burias Island.
The provinces of Misamis Oriental, Agusan del Sur, Siquijor, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Mindoro Occidental, Mindoro Oriental, Northern Palawan including Calamian Island group and Southern Quezon were under signal number 1.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said local governments had evacuated families in danger areas and suspended classes. Flights to the typhoon-lashed provinces were cancelled.
Survivors of a deadly earthquake also fled their tent shelters on Thursday as mass evacuations got under way.
Escullar said the typhoon, which was advancing with a giant, 600-kilometer front and was expected to hit areas still recovering from a deadly 2011 storm and a 7.1-magnitude quake last month.
They include Bohol, the epicenter of the earthquake that killed more than 200 people, where a local official said at least 5,000 people were still living in tents while waiting for new homes.
“The provincial governor has ordered local disaster officials to ensure that preemptive evacuations are done, both for those living in tents as well as those in flood-prone areas,” Bohol provincial administrator Alfonso Damalerio said.
However, Escullar said Haiyan was likely to spare Mindanao’s southeast, where Typhoon Bopha left about 2,000 people dead or missing in December last year.
Some of the country’s most popular islands for tourists, including world-famous Boracay as well as Bohol, are in the typhoon’s path.
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) placed Southern Metro Manila under full alert ahead of the super typhoon.
The typhoon will be closest to Metro Manila Friday afternoon. Considered as critical areas are the Manila Bay, including the cities of Muntinlupa, Las Piñas, Pasay and Parañaque.
MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino said all of the agency’s rescue units are ready for deployment.
The MMDA placed all its personnel and rescue equipment, including rubber boats and vehicles, on standby.
Tolentino said the rest of the metropolis will be on blue alert status.
He said Yolanda will bring a big amount of rainfall and strong winds to the metropolis. He recommended the suspension of elementary and high-school classes today.
Tolentino also advised Metro residents to go home early today.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) is on full alert, while the Armed Forces of the Philippines in National Capital Region readied trucks and personnel for rescue and relief efforts.
Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr. of Makati ordered the city’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (MDRRMC) to activate the Makati’s Incident Command System (ICS).
The Philippine Ports Authority suspended all port operations in all areas that will be affected by the typhoon.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd called on the people to prepare for onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda.
The President said Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas flew to Leyte to oversee preparations for the typhoon.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development has prepositioned relief goods, and the Philippine Coast Guard has banned vessels from going out to sea, he said.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) called on all bishops and priests to recite the “oratio imperata.”
CBCP President Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma said that prayers are the best weapon against the typhoon.
“Alam po natin na napakalakas ng Typhoon Yolanda and we pray that it would not really hit us or bring havoc to the country, we have had enough calamities at sana nga po through our prayers, with God’s help hindi po masyadong malalala yung epekto nitong Typhoon Yolanda. We exhort our priest to lead our prayer [oratio imperata] against impending calamities,” Palma said.
WITH REPORTS FROM AFP AND VOLT PALANA