MANILA – A typhoon of nearly 160 km / h hit the eastern Philippines on Thursday after strengthening as it crossed the Pacific Ocean, the state weather office said.
Typhoon Vongfong was moving slowly west at around 10 mph. when it made landfall at 12:15 p.m. in the northern province of Samar, in the eastern Philippines, according to the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration.
Forecasters have predicted it could pour torrential rain by Saturday in much of the Philippines, including possibly Luzon, the country’s largest island, which has a population of 60 million and includes the capital, Manila.
Much of Luzon remains stranded due to the coronavirus epidemic, which could complicate emergency efforts if the storm hit the island with particular force.
“This will certainly add to our emergency,” said Harry Roque, spokesperson for President Rodrigo Duterte. “Although the areas expected to be affected by the typhoon are not heavily ravaged by Covid-19, we have established guidelines.”
He said that any family brought to evacuation areas should follow strict social distancing guidelines. But judging by the evacuations during previous typhoons, he conceded that “enforcing it would be a challenge.”
The country’s civil protection office said the storm could damage homes made of light materials and advised people living along the coast to move to evacuation shelters.
Weather officials said the storm was picking up on Thursday. The place where it touched down, San Policarpo, is a town of over 14,000 people in the northeast of the island of Samar. There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries.
“Along with heavy swells, this storm surge can cause life-threatening coastal flooding,” the weather agency Pagasa said in a notice Thursday morning.
The Philippines is in a typhoon belt and at least 20 storms – some of them fatal – generally ravage the country each year.
In 2003, more than 6,000 people were killed when Super Typhoon Haiyan caused widespread devastation, mainly in the central city of Tacloban, which was inundated by massive tidal waves.
The name of the storm, Vongfong, is derived from the term for wasp in Cantonese.