MANILA (2nd UPDATE)— Residents in high-risk areas moved to safer ground, sea travel was suspended and evacuation centers were readied with COVID-19 protocols in place Saturday as Typhoon Rolly, the world's strongest storm this year, threatened the Philippines.
Destructive winds and heavy rains across several provinces and the capital region Metro Manila, and storm surges in coastal areas are forecast as the storm is set to intensify into a super typhoon in the coming hours, according to weather bureau PAGASA.
As of the state weather bureau's 2 p.m. forecast, Rolly was packing maximum sustained winds of 215 kilometers per hour near the center and gusts of up to 265 kph— the most powerful typhoon yet seen in the country since the deadly 2013 super storm Yolanda (international name: Haiyan).
At the storm's peak, PAGASA expects to hoist Tropical Cyclone Wind Signal No. 4, the second highest in 5 categories, where destructive typhoon-force winds and heavy structural damage are expected.
As of 2 p.m., PAGASA placed several areas in Luzon and the Visayas under storm signals. See below:
The country's disaster response agency is expecting widespread damage.
"Malawak na pinsala ang nakikita natin dito kahit hindi siya maging super typhoon. Kung typhoon level lang ay aabot tayo sa Typhoon Signal No. 4 at magkakaroon na lakas ng hangin na 171-220 kph at asahan natin ang heavy to very heavy damage sa kaniyang daraanan," said National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Director Ricardo Jalad in a virtual briefing on state-run PTV.
(We expect widespread damage even if it does not become a super typhoon. If it reaches typhoon level, we may go as high as Typhoon Signal No. 4 and have wind speeds of 171-220 kph and expect heavy to very heavy damage along its path.)
He said Rolly would be the "strongest storm to hit since Typhoon Yolanda." The super storm, which severely affected the Visayas, had killed over 6,000 people and destroyed structures across the central islands in November 2013, with reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts still ongoing.
Rains are expected to begin on Saturday night, while warnings were issued for coastal areas where storm surges beyond 3 meters high may be expected in the next 24 hours.
PAGASA said the surges "may result in life-threatening and damaging coastal inundation... with swells and breaking waves reaching the coast."
Storm surges are expected in the following areas:
Over 3 meters
- Northern coastal areas of Quezon including Polillo Islands
- Camarines provinces
2.1 to 3 meters
- Southeastern coastal area of Batangas
- Southwestern coastal area of Quezon
1 to 2 meters
- Occidental Mindoro
- Other coastal areas in the Bicol region
Preparations across archipelago
Malacañang urged the public to closely monitor updates and heed government warnings.
"We ask the public, especially the residents of potential areas that will be affected by the typhoon to stay calm yet vigilant, check the latest government weather advisory, listen to the radio or watch television for more information, secure their house and vehicle, and keep their family members and loved ones dry and safe," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
He said the social welfare department has P879 million in standby funds to support local government units who would need help because of the impact of the storm.
The country is also preparing to respond to the storm while wary of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, with the health department meeting with local government units Saturday afternoon on how to ensure the safety of residents who would have to be moved to evacuation centers.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said minimum health standards- the use of masks, physical distancing and hand washing- must be observed in evacuation centers.
"'Yan po ang ating ina-anticipate, alam po natin may LGUs na walang facilities at baka magkaroon po ng siksikan. Ang amin pong binibigyan na paalala, lahat po dapat naka-mask, dapat may handwashing stations at mga alcohol at pinakaimportante po dapat may safety officers," said Vergeire at the briefing.
(That's what we anticipate, we know LGUs don't have enough facilities and there might be crowding [in evacuation centers]. We want to remind people to use face masks, there should be handwashing stations and alcohol, and most importantly there should be safety officers.)
Safety officers, she said, should monitor those inside evacuation centers and report if some are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
In Camarines Sur in the Bicol region, an area forecast to be among the first areas to experience the effects of the typhoon, the provincial government was set to begin forced evacuation of residents in high-risk areas by Saturday afternoon.
On Friday, Gov. Miguel Luis Villafuerte signed Memorandum No. 4 that ordered the evacuation of residents living in houses made of light materials and those in landslide and flood-prone barangays.
Early evacuation was also enforced in Real, Quezon, where the typhoon is forecast to make landfall and storm surges are expected. Some residents moved to their relatives' homes on the foot of Sierra madre. Boats were also moved away from the coast.
Oriental Mindoro, still reeling from Typhoon Quinta that struck just a few days ago, is again bracing for another storm, even as relief operations continued for those affected by the earlier weather system.
The Philippine Coast Guard suspended sea trips in areas on the path of the storm to ensure safety of passengers and fishermen. This kept vessels anchored in major ports, including in Mindoro, Batangas, Lucena in Quezon, and Manila.
In Matnog, Sorsogon, over 300 vehicles from cars to trucks and some 800 passengers were stranded Saturday morning because of suspended sea travel.