Tens of thousands of people along the Philippines’ eastern coast have evacuated their homes ahead of Typhoon Hagupit, an approaching storm that ranks among the most powerful this year.
With memories of Typhoon Haiyan fresh in their minds, it appears few coastal communities are taking any chances with Hagupit. Local and international media report that thousands of people in areas hardest hit by last year’s storm – many still living in temporary shelters – are already in evacuation centers.
“We didn’t need to convince them,” Borongan City Mayor Maria Fe Abunda told The Wall Street Journal. “People are aware of what is going on, especially after what happened last year with Haiyan. They’re voluntarily coming to the evacuation centers.”
Hagupit is about 186 miles east of Borongan, a city of 65,000 on the Pacific Ocean, and is moving west at 6 mph, according to the latest report from the Philippine weather agency. The agency predicts the typhoon will make landfall on Saturday night or early Sunday morning over Northern and Eastern Samar, two of the poorest provinces in the country. Heavy rains and a storm surge of up to 13 feet high are also expected.
Hagupit – named “Ruby” in the Philippines – most recently clocked sustained winds of 121 mph and gusts of 143 mph. Weather authorities say Hagupit is unlikely to make landfall with winds as powerful as Haiyan. But they warn it could arrive more slowly, giving it the potential to stay over land longer and do more damage.
Borongan sits directly in the path of Hagupit. The Philippine Star reports local authorities have told residents in low-lying areas to voluntarily evacuate and that those who refuse would be forcibly removed. More than 10,000 residents are already in 30 evacuation centers.
Farther south in Tacloban, the city worst hit by Haiyan, Vice Mayor Jerry Yaokasin told reporters that government officials were strictly enforcing evacuation orders.
“We have no more excuse,” Mr. Yaokasin said. “We have gone through Yolanda [the Filipino name for Haiyan], and to lose that many lives, it's beyond our conscience already.”
Haiyan became the strongest storm ever to make landfall when it tore across the midsection of the Philippines last November, killing more than 6,300 and displacing 4.1 million more. It caused an estimated $12 billion in damage.
Recovery and rebuilding efforts are well underway across regions ravaged by Haiyan. But with Hagupit looming, aid workers and government officials worry how much progress will be lost – and how well they’ll be able to respond in the aftermath of the new storm. Many relief groups have shifted their focus to long-term development in recent months, leaving them ill prepared to handle emergency relief.
“A lot of people around here are absolutely petrified of what is going to happen,” says Orla Fagan, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Manila. “There are a lot of vulnerable people still out there.”
OCHA reported in October that 25,000 people still lived in transitional housing such as tents and evacuation centers. It estimated that an additional 475,000 people were living in unsafe and inadequate makeshift shelters, leaving them highly exposed to the approaching storm.