Philippines: Typhoon Vongfong Flash Update No. 1 (As of 15 May 2020, 7 p.m. local time)
Following initial landfall as a Category 3 typhoon in San Policarpo, Eastern Samar, just after noon on 14 May, Typhoon Vongfong (locally named Ambo) continues to bring destructive winds and heavy to intense rainfall as it moves northwest towards mainland Luzon. On 15 May, the eye of the typhoon carried maximum sustained winds of 125 km/h near the center and gustiness of up to 165 km/h making further landfalls in Northern Samar, Masbate and Quezon provinces.
Tropical Cyclone Warning Signal number 3 (winds of 121 to 170 km/h) was issued for the provinces of Quezon, Rizal, Marinduque and in parts of Aurora, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur. Signal number 2 (winds of 61 to 120 km/h) was later raised in Metro Manila, which is currently a major COVID-19 hotspot in the country; and the rest of regions 3 and 4-A. Areas in the typhoon’s path are expected to experience heavy to intense rain, bringing the threat of flooding and rain-induced landslides. Now downgraded to a severe tropical storm, Vongfong is expected to pass east from Metro Manila by the evening of 15 May and leave the landmass by Sunday.
The combination of high winds, sustained heavy rainfall and storm surges has impacted vulnerable communities in the Eastern Visayas, Bicol and Southern Luzon which were also heavily affected by Typhoon Kammuri (local name Tisoy) in December 2019. According to initial reports, one person has been injured and two are missing in Region 8. The threat to homes, toppled trees and power poles and inundated coastal areas prompted thousands of people to seek shelter in evacuation centres despite the health safety risks from the COVID-19 outbreak. Electricity and communication lines, including mobile phone services, have been cut in provinces where the typhoon already passed, primarily as a precautionary measure, and are expected to be restored by the weekend. With clearance operations underway, most roads and major highways are now passable.
Regional authorities in Bicol report that over 300,000 people sought refuge in some 2,300 evacuation centers across the provinces of Sorsogon, Albay, Catanduanes, Masbate and Camarines Sur. About 15,900 people have preemptively evacuated in the provinces of Northern Samar, Samar and Eastern Samar.
Compounding effects of COVID-19
Large parts of the country remain under movement restrictions and lockdowns due to threat posed by COVID19, which could put strain on emergency response efforts should the typhoon have a severe impact. The storm is also expected to affect Metro Manila and Laguna province, both areas declared as COVID-19 hotspots with a high number of confirmed cases. The National Capital Region has over 7,600 cases, or almost 65 per cent of all confirmed cased in the country, which raises concerns of accelerated transmission should there be a need to evacuate residents living in densely populated and flood-prone areas.
Government preparedness and response
The Government is leading preparedness and response efforts for Typhoon Vongfong. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) convened risk disaster assessment meeting ahead of its first landfall and worked with telecommunication companies to disseminate emergency alert messages via mobile phones to people in the affected areas. The NDRRMC Operations Center maintains a blue alert status and regional emergency operations centres have been activated. The Department of Social Welfare and Development has readied standby funds and stockpiled family food packs, food items, and Non-Food items amounting to US$23.4 million (PhP1.18 billion).
The Department of Health advised local government authorities to allot wider spaces in evacuation centres to ensure adequate physical distancing. Families who will be evacuated must observe minimum health standards, which includes wearing of face masks, proper hygiene and cough etiquette. The NDRRMC also urged local authorities to explore alternative evacuation centres, since schools could not be used as many have been designated as quarantine facilities for COVID-19 patients.
Local officials point to the double challenge of keeping their residents safe from COVID-19 and the typhoon, noting the difficulty of maintaining physical distancing in temporary shelters. Several local governments have decreed that evacuation centres be only filled to half their usual capacity to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease. The Catholic Church offered the use of its church buildings and chapels as additional shelters and some shopping malls have done the same.
The Humanitarian Country Team continues to monitor the situation and has activated preparedness measures based on its protocols. The United National Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is in touch with national authorities and has reached out to partners with presence in the affected areas to collate reports on impact and needs. The initial reports indicate most pressing needs are food relief items, face masks, especially for children, sanitation supplies in evacuation centers and livelihood support for affected farmers.
For more information, contact:
Mark Bidder, Head of Office, firstname.lastname@example.org
Manja Vidic, Humanitarian Affairs Officer, email@example.com