Coronavirus pandemic
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
A satellite image released by Nasa shows Typhoon Vongfong roaring toward the eastern Philippines. It made landfall on Thursday, knocking out power and causing heavy rains. Photo: AP

As Typhoon Vongfong hits Philippines, coronavirus social distancing enforced at emergency shelters

  • A man bled to death after he was hit by glass shards in a school building he was trying to open to take shelter in
  • Over 145,000 have fled their homes, but evacuations have been slowed by Covid-19 restrictions, and shelters being used as quarantine facilities

Typhoon Vongfong’s ferocious wind and rain left at least one dead and damaged hundreds of coronavirus isolation facilities and homes, along with rice and corn fields in five hard-hit eastern towns alone, a governor said on Friday.

Governor Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar province, where the typhoon slammed ashore, said some residents were weeping in desperation after their houses were destroyed or blown away in the towns he inspected. One distraught villager who lost his home slashed his wrist but was treated in time, he said.

A man bled to death after he was hit by glass shards in a school building he was trying to open to take shelter in, Evardone said.

“The damage I saw was very extensive. The roof of one church was ripped off completely, its iron bars twisted badly by the typhoon,” Evardone said by telephone.

Dark clouds cover the Manila skyline as Filipino fishermen secure their boats in anticipation of an approaching typhoon. Photo: EPA-EFE

He said that he and his group of military, police and local authorities failed to travel to two towns hit by the typhoon, Jipapad and Maslog, due to fallen trees on the road. Mobile phone and two-way radio communications to the far-flung areas were down and Evardone appealed to the military to deploy a helicopter to inspect and carry out food drops if army troops were not be able to reach the area by Saturday.

In the outlying region of Bicol, northwest of Eastern Samar, more than 145,000 people were riding out the weakening typhoon in emergency shelters on Friday after a mass evacuation that was complicated and slowed by the coronavirus.

Vongfong weakened into a severe tropical storm after hitting land on Thursday and was blowing northwest toward the populous main northern island of Luzon, government forecasters said.

The typhoon’s maximum sustained wind speed dropped to 110km/h with gusts of 150km/h but it remains dangerous especially in coastal and low-lying villages, forecasters said. Vongfong was expected to blow out of the country’s north on Sunday.

Residents brave rains and strong wind as they walk past uprooted trees in Eastern Samar province, after Typhoon Vongfong made landfall. Photo: AFP

Office of Civil Defence Director Claudio Yucot said the evacuations took time because workers needed to wear masks and protective suits and could not transport villagers to shelters in large numbers as a safeguard against Covid-19.

“Our ease of movement has been limited by Covid,” Yucot said by telephone from Albay province in the Bicol region, which has had dozens of coronavirus infections, including four deaths, and remains under quarantine. “In the evacuation centres, there are more challenges.”

In an evacuation room, which could shelter up to 40 families before, only four families could be accommodated now. The occupants should know each other and are required to report any infected person, Yucot said.

The coastguard said more than 600 cargo truck drivers and workers were stranded due to the travel suspension. All were required to wear masks and prohibited from mingling.

Strong waves batter houses along the coastline of Catbalogan city, Western Samar province. Photo: AP

The typhoon hit as the Philippines struggles to deal with coronavirus outbreaks, largely with a lockdown in Luzon that is to be eased this weekend, except in metropolitan Manila and two other high-risk areas. The rest of the country will be placed in less restrictive quarantine, and crucial businesses will partially reopen starting next week.

The Philippines has reported more than 12,000 coronavirus infections, including 806 deaths, among the highest in Southeast Asia.

Philippines extends coronavirus lockdown in Manila and two high-risk areas

It is not unheard of for disasters to overlap in the Philippines, and some 22,000 people were evacuated from the slopes of the active Mayon volcano ahead of the typhoon’s arrival.

Heavy rains in the past have sent landslides of debris cascading down the volcano and onto the communities below, burying and killing those in the way.

A highway littered with fallen coconut trees in Can-avid town, Eastern Samar province, after Typhoon Vongfong made landfall. Photo: AFP

Typhoons are a dangerous and disruptive part of life in the Philippine archipelago, which gets hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year.

The storms put millions of people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty and rebuilding.

A July 2019 study by the Manila-based Asian Development Bank said the most frequent storms lop one per cent off the Philippine economy, with the stronger ones cutting economic output by nearly three per cent.

The country’s deadliest cyclone on record was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: 150,000 flee homes as Typhoon hits