Powerful storm forces thousands from homes in virus-hit Philippines
People's Daily


Tens of millions more people live along Vongfong's path. (Photo: AFP)

Tens of thousands of people were forced into cramped shelters by the powerful storm pounding the Philippines on Friday, making social distancing nearly impossible as the nation battles the coronavirus pandemic.

Typhoon Vongfong smashed homes, schools and virus quarantine sites when it hit central Samar island on Thursday, but then weakened into a severe tropical storm on its path north to the capital Manila.

The storm struck as tens of millions of Filipinos are hunkered down at home to protect themselves against COVID-19, but more than 140,000 had to flee in central Bicol region because of the powerful storm, disaster officials said.

Vongfong packed gusts up to 190 kilometers (120 miles) an hour and drenching rains when it roared into the Philippines.

"We have to wear masks and apply distancing at all times," local police official Carlito Abriz said. "It's difficult to enforce because they (the evacuees) are stressed. But we are doing our best."

Bicol saw less damage than hard-hit Samar, so some of those in shelters had begun to return home after the storm passed on Friday, disaster officials reported.

Authorities have said they will run shelters at half of capacity, provide masks to people who don't have them and try to keep families grouped together.

However, many spaces normally used as storm shelters have been converted into quarantine sites for people suspected of being infected with coronavirus.

Ben Evardone, governor of the central province Eastern Samar, said local quarantine sites, schools and at least one church were leveled by the fierce wind.

Fortunately the central region where the storm struck first is not one of the hotspots of the Philippines' outbreak, which has seen 12,091 reported infections and 806 dead according to Johns Hopkins.

Tens of millions more people live along Vongfong's path, which is forecast to take it near the densely populated capital Manila later Friday.

Disaster officials in Manila, which is the centre of the nation's virus outbreak, said they have not ordered pre-emptive evacuations for the capital but have issued storm warnings.

Authorities have not reported any deaths so far, but disaster crews had not yet completed their assessment of hard-hit areas cut off by the storm.