Thousands of people in the Philippines fled their homes and resorts as Super Typhoon Rai swept through the country on Thursday, with a charity warning the storm could hit coastal communities “like a freight train” .
Rai was blowing maximum sustained winds of 195 kilometers (120 miles) per hour when it made landfall on the southern island of Siargao at 1:30 p.m. (05:30 GMT), the state weather forecaster said.
It is the most violent storm to hit the disaster-prone country this year, AFP said.
“This monster storm is frightening and threatens to hit coastal communities like a freight train,” said Alberto Bocanegra, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Philippines.
“We are very concerned that climate change is making typhoons more fierce and unpredictable.”
The meteorological office warned that “very destructive” winds could cause “heavy to very extensive damage to structures and vegetation,” as well as widespread flooding and rain-induced landslides.
More than 90,000 people sought emergency shelter as the storm swept across the Pacific Ocean, relief agencies said.
Evacuations were still underway in areas in the path of the typhoon.
Among the evacuees were domestic tourists visiting the country’s famous beaches and dive sites before Christmas.
Foreign travelers are still banned from entering the Philippines under Covid-19 restrictions.
Verified video shot by tourists in Siargao showed trees swaying violently as people awaited the full impact of the typhoon.
In the town of Dapa, families slept on the floor of a sports complex transformed into a temporary evacuation center.
– ‘Splint for strong winds’ –
Dozens of flights have been canceled and dozens of ports temporarily closed as the meteorological office warned that storm surges several meters high could cause “life-threatening flooding” in low-lying coastal areas.
Meteorologist Christopher Perez said the winds could “knock down utility poles and trees” and damage homes made of lightweight materials.
“Be prepared for heavy rains, be prepared for strong winds too,” Perez said in a briefing.
Rai, locally named “Odette”, hits the Philippines at the end of the typhoon season, with most cyclones developing between July and October.
It is the second super typhoon to threaten the country since September when Chanthu grazed the northeastern tip of the main island of Luzon.
Scientists have long warned that typhoons are getting stronger and growing faster, as the world warms due to human-caused climate change.
A super typhoon is also known as a category five hurricane in the United States.
Earth tends to experience about five storms of this power per year.
The Rai is expected to weaken slightly as it passes through the Visayas region and the islands of Mindanao and Palawan, before emerging over the South China Sea on Saturday and heading towards Vietnam.
The Philippines, ranked among the most vulnerable countries in the world to the impacts of climate change, is hit on average by 20 storms and typhoons each year, which typically wipe out crops, homes and infrastructure in already impoverished areas.