DARAGA, Albay — Babies, toddlers and old people were loaded onto military trucks in pouring rain in the Philippines on Sunday as tens of thousands fled the path of a powerful typhoon barrelling towards the disaster-prone archipelago.
Officials warned of storm surges up to 2.5-metres (eight-feet) high, landslides and flash floods as Nina closed in on the Bicol peninsula and nearby islands.
The typhoon threat, on one of the biggest holidays in the mainly Christian nation, triggered mass evacuations that officials said could eventually displace hundreds of thousands of people.
One provincial governor offered roast pig at evacuation centers to entice people to forsake celebrations at home.
“We went around with megaphones and gave instructions to our people to eat breakfast, pack and board the military trucks,” Alberto Lindo, an official of Alcala, a farming village of 3,300 people near the active Mayon volcano, told AFP.
About 100 babies, toddlers, parents and elderly people were the first to be trucked off to a school some seven kilometres (four miles) away as rain and strong winds shook trees at midday.
“There are large ash deposits on the slopes (of Mayon). Heavy rain can dislodge them and bury our homes in mud,” Lindo added.
Philippine and international weather services said Nock-Ten, named after a bird found in Laos, was set to hit Bicol on the south of the main island of Luzon on Sunday evening.
The US Joint Typhoon Warning Center has forecast sustained winds of 231 kilometres (144 miles) an hour and gusts of 278 km when Nock-Ten makes landfall at the now-isolated island province of Catanduanes, home to 250,000 people.
The government has forced more than 12,000 residents to move away from the Catanduanes coast after the state weather service warned the landfall could be as early as 6:00 pm (1000 GMT), said provincial vice governor Shirley Abundo.
“Please evacuate now while you still have time,” she said in a live appeal on ABS-CBN television.
In Camarines Sur province near Catanduanes, governor Miguel Villafuerte said on his Facebook page that nearly 90,000 residents have been evacuated as part of his goal to achieve “zero casualty”.
In another post on Twitter, the governor hinted at the difficulty of convincing people to recognize the approaching danger amid the revelry.
“Please evacuate, we will offer roast pig at the evacuation centres,” he tweeted. AFP
“We have recalled all of our first responders from vacation. They will be on 24-hour standby and on call for rescues or support,” Rachel Miranda, spokeswoman for the region’s civil defense office, told AFP.
Nina, which will arrive outside the normal typhoon season, caused all ferry services and commercial flights in Bicol to be suspended.
Some of the thousands of commuters stranded at dozens of ports closed for the typhoon spent the night inside evacuation centers on Saturday.
After Bicol, Nina is forecast to strike the heavily populated heartland of Luzon including Manila.
Rescue workers in the capital and the flood-prone central Luzon plains to the north have been put on standby, evacuation centers opened and food and other rations stocked.
The coastguard on Sunday ordered the beaches south of Manila to be cleared of holidaymakers by Monday, while residents of the capital’s seaside slums were warned to leave their homes.
Mammoth tsunami-like sea waves devastated the city of Tacloban and nearby areas when super typhoon Yolanda struck the central Philippines in November 2013, leaving 7,350 people dead or missing.
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