Thousands of people have fled their homes on Thursday, December 16, as a super typhoon lashed the southern Philippines, with authorities warning of destructive winds and torrential rain.
The super typhoon with international name Rai (local name: Odette) made landfall in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao with maximum sustained winds of 259 kilometers per hour (kph) and with gustiness of 340 kph.
“[Super Typhoon Rai] has undergone an impressive rapid intensification,” read a bulletin on the US-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
The Philippine weather bureau Pagasa hoisted Signal No 4 in several areas of the southern and central Philippines where “very destructive” typhoon-force winds are now prevailing or are expected within 12 hours.
“Considering the recent trend in its intensification, the typhoon may reach a pre-landfall peak intensity of 175 to 195 kph prior to landfall,” read a bulletin from Pagasa.
“Destructive typhoon-force winds… may bring moderate to heavy damage to structures and vegetation,” it added.
More than 45,000 people had already sought emergency shelter as the storm charged across the Pacific Ocean, the national disaster agency said.
They included domestic tourists visiting the country’s famed beaches and dive spots ahead of Christmas. Foreign travelers are still banned from entering the Philippines under COVID-19 restrictions.
Several churches have earlier opened its doors to people who will be affected by the typhoon.
Father Denish Ilogon, social action head of the Diocese of Surigao, said parishes have been preparing for the typhoon and have opened churches to serve as evacuation ceners.
“We have also instructed parishes to allow the use of church facilities in case there’s a need for additional evacuation centers,” said the priest in an interview over Church-run Radio Veritas 846.
In Cagayan De Oro, also in Mindanao, officials of the archdiocese’s social action centers have been meeting to prepare for the impact of the typhoon.
“We hope that the impact of ‘Odette’ will not be as bad,” said Father Bong Galas, social action director. The priest said the city has been experiencing rains already early on Wednesday.
The priest said people in the archdiocese have a “phobia” of typhoons because of the destructions they witnessed in the past.
Scores of flights have been canceled and dozens of ports temporarily closed as the weather bureau warned several meter-high storm surges could cause “life-threatening flooding” in low-lying coastal areas.
The typhoon is expected to sweep across the Visayas region, and Mindanao and Palawan islands before emerging Saturday over the South China Sea and heading toward Vietnam.
The Philippines — ranked as one of the world’s most vulnerable to the impacts of a warming planet — is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons every year, which typically wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure in already impoverished areas. – with a report from AFP