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Typhoon Vongfong strongly strikes Philippines amid coronavirus -hampered evacuation

May 16, 2020 | 07:30

The first typhoon of 2020 brought torrential rains to Luzon, an island that is home to 60 million people in the Phillippines, officials warned that evacuation centers could become hotbeds for the spread of the coronavirus.

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Typhoon Vongfong strongly strikes Philippines amid coronavirus -hampered evacuation
Residents of San Policarpo, a town in the Philippine province of Eastern Samar, on Friday after Typhoon Vongfong struck. The typhoon was later downgraded to a severe tropical storm.Credit...Alren Beronio/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Typhoon Vongfong has made landfall in the Philippines, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people in a country under lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The first typhoon to hit the Philippines this season barreled toward the main island of Luzon, dumping torrential rains and raising fears that the coronavirus could spread in crowded shelters.

The typhoon struck eastern Samar at around noon local time Thursday. It is the first named storm of the 2020 season in the West Pacific, locally known as "Ambo" in the Philippines, made landfall just after midday local time on May 14 near the town of San Policarpo in the province of Eastern Samar, about 350 miles southeast of the nation's capital, Manila.

Typhoon Vongfong strongly strikes Philippines amid coronavirus -hampered evacuation
Typhoon Vongfong made landfall in Eastern Samar Province on the main island of Luzon in the Philippines on Thursday, kills at Least One, Damages Homes and Crops in Philippines

Vongfong packed winds of at least 115 mph, an intensity that makes it the equivalent of a category 3 hurricane.

As of 8 a.m. Friday Philippines time, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said the typhoon was last tracked over the coastal waters of the city of San Andres moving northwest at 9 miles per hour, according to the state-run Philippines News Agency. San Andres is located on Luzon, the largest and most-populous island in the Philippines archipelago, and is located about 140 miles (225 kilometers) southeast of the capital, Manila.

The storm's violent winds triggered the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, according to Reuters news agency.

At least 200,000 people live in coastal areas near the area of Samar affected.

After Vongfong made landfall, it kept on a westward track longer than anticipated, causing it to spend more time over land and weaken. The storm is now a minimal typhoon and will move through Luzon over the next 24 to 48 hours, but will be more of a rain and flood threat than a wind threat.

The country currently has 11,876 cases of the disease, including 790 deaths reported according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

In order to combat its spread, evacuation centers in the central Philippines will only be filled to half capacity, according to Reuters. Evacuees will be expected to wear face masks.

Vongfong is expected to gradually turn northwest and it is likely to weaken over land.

Significant rainfall is expected to continue over parts of the Philippines, including the vast Visayas and Bicol regions and northern Luzon.

Typhoon Vongfong strongly strikes Philippines amid coronavirus -hampered evacuation
Waves battered the coastline of Catbalogan City in the eastern Philippines as Vongfong made landfall on Thursday.Credit...Simvale Sayat/Associated Press
Typhoon Vongfong strongly strikes Philippines amid coronavirus -hampered evacuation
Strong winds tore tin roofs from homes and knocked out power. Credit...Simvale Sayat/Associated Press

The West Pacific typhoon season doesn't have a defined beginning and end like the Atlantic hurricane season, as storms form in the area throughout the year.

Vongfong's arrival marks the eighth-latest start to the season since 1950, according to Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University.

Due to the Philippines' location in the tropical Pacific the country is hit by around eight to nine storms in an average year. The typhoon is also named Ambo locally in the Philippines.

In the Taft municipality in Eastern Samar Province, the disaster risk and reduction management officer, Rhoda Cosipag Barris, said there were no local reports of casualties, but farming and fishing had been devastated.

Typhoon Vongfong strongly strikes Philippines amid coronavirus -hampered evacuation
Residents arrived at a school turned evacuation center in Legazpi City. Officials fear that the coronavirus could spread in the packed centers. Credit...Nino Luces/Reuters
Typhoon Vongfong strongly strikes Philippines amid coronavirus -hampered evacuation
Citizens cut up a tree that has fallen on a road as Typhoon Vongfong makes landfall in the town of Can-avid, Eastern Samar province in the Philippines [EPA]

Fernando Hicap, head of Pamalakaya, a group representing fishermen, said the storm had displaced many fishermen and farmers along the coasts of Samar, southern Luzon and the Bicol region further to the east.

Tarah Nguyen