Mindanao, Philippines – Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes in the Philippines as “one of the world’s strongest storms” of the year made landfall in mid-eastern parts of the island nation.
The Philippine’s weather bureau, PAGASA, said Typhoon Rai made its first landfall in Surigao del Norte’s Siargao Island at 05:30 GMT on Thursday.
It warned of “very destructive typhoon-force winds” in parts of the country and said it expected to see storm surges in coastal areas, as well as flooding and landslides in mountainous areas along the typhoon’s path.
PAGASA said wind speed has accelerated to 195 kilometres (121 miles per hour) near the centre with gusts of up to 240km/h (149 mph).
The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) of the US Navy has declared Rai as a super typhoon.
It is the 15th typhoon to hit the country this year. Official figures show some 100,000 people have now fled their homes.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies called the typhoon, which is locally known as Typhoon Odette, “one of the world’s strongest storms of 2021” and said it is “threatening millions of people with destructive winds and flash floods”.
“Filipinos are tough but this Super Typhoon is a bitter blow for millions of people who are still recovering from devastating storms, floods and COVID-19 in the past year,” said Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross.
According to the national disaster mitigation agency, NDRRMC, eight regions in the country have been placed on the highest level in emergency preparedness and response protocol.
The eight regions located in the central and southern group of islands in the Visayas and Mindanao areas have a combined population of more than 30 million.
Later on Thursday, the NDRRMC issued an alert warning of possible flooding and mudslides in the Mindanao provinces of Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Lanao del Norte and Zamboanga Del Norte due to ongoing torrential rains that were expected to continue for at least three hours.
Several of those areas have been advised to conduct a preemptive evacuation.
Arvin Limare Bonbon, the disaster management head in Dipolog, told Al Jazeera that there’s an “ongoing preemptive and forced evacuation” in some areas of the coastal city with a population of about 138,000.
Suspension of work and online classes have been ordered in some areas including the central province of Cebu, which has a population of eight million.
The Philippine coastguard said it has grounded all vessels, stranding nearly 4,000 passengers and ferry and cargo ship workers in dozens of southern and central ports. Several mostly domestic flights have been canceled and schools and workplaces were shut in the most vulnerable areas.
A COVID-19 vaccination drive has also been suspended in some parts of the country due to the typhoon. The evacuations could further complicate the country’s coronavirus response as thousands of displaced residents pack emergency shelters, where it is difficult to maintain social distancing guidelines.
In the province of Eastern Samar in the Visayas, Governor Ben Evardone has been quoted as telling the DZMM radio station that nearly 30,000 residents have been evacuated as of Thursday morning. Eastern Samar and Leyte provinces were among those hardest hit by the 2013 super typhoon Haiyan, which left thousands dead.
In other parts of the eastern Visayas, more than 17,000 people were also evacuated, according to news reports.
In the province of Surigao del Norte in Mindanao, the provincial disaster mitigation agency said that 51,000 residents have been evacuated so far.
In Dinagat, Governor Arlene Bag-ao was quoted by news reports as saying that almost 2,000 families have sought shelter at evacuation centres.
The government’s disaster-response agency said over 98,000 people had been evacuated across the country as of Thursday afternoon.
As early as Wednesday afternoon, emergency workers in Tandag, a southern coastal city with a population of more than 62,000, evacuated 3,668 families, the local government said, adding that the evacuees were housed in 18 temporary shelters.
In Cagayan de Oro, also in Mindanao, social media posts showed heavy rain and flooding in some areas of the city, which has a population of more than 675,000.
According to NDRRMC, the national government has placed on standby food and non-food supplies worth an estimated $6.6m.
The Philippines is regularly hit by more than a dozen deadly typhoons every year.
In October, at least 11 people were killed and seven others went missing when Typhoon Kompasu hit the northern and western parts of the country.