The storm rapidly intensified on Thursday morning and upgraded from a typhoon to a super typhoon, with sustained winds of 260 kilometers per hour (160 miles per hour) with gusts in excess of 300 kilometers per hour (185 miles per hour) – equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean.
In parts of the Philippines, the beginning of the week started with heavy rainfall; in central Misamis Oriental province, the Agay-ayan River overflowed Tuesday, flooding streets and homes with muddy brown water.
According to the country’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau, which urged local authorities to prepare evacuation plans, thousands of villages in the storm’s projected path are at high risk of flooding and landslides.
The center of the storm is expected to make landfall in the central and southern regions of the country. Some of the worst conditions are expected in Surigao Province, which lies at the northern tip of Mindanao, one of the country’s main islands.
The storm is also expected to hit a number of provinces in the country’s central Visayas region, including Samar Province. According to official figures of 2020, more than 20 million people live in the Visayas.
More than 2,600 people were evacuated in Surigao province on Wednesday evening, the state-owned Philippine News Agency said.
Photos from Surigao show a sports complex converted into an evacuation center, with plastic tents in a large hall and families sleeping on carpets and tarps on the floor.
Meanwhile, in Samar province, nearly 30,000 residents have been evacuated from their homes in the past two days, Governor Ben Evardone told radio station DZMM. “We are already plagued by high winds and rain,” said Evardone.
In Tacloban City, just outside Samar, hundreds of residents have also sought shelter in evacuation sites. Many have experienced Super Typhoon Yolanda, which killed more than 6,000 Filipinos in 2013 — and they’re not taking any chances now.
“Let’s be prepared. Don’t panic,” Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez said, according to DailyExpertNews affiliate DailyExpertNews Philippines. “I don’t want to compare this to Yolanda… Just make sure everything in your house is prepared.”
Airlines have canceled dozens of flights, while transportation authorities have banned sea and land travel in the central and southern Philippines, leaving thousands stranded in ports.
Humanitarian and relief organizations are also on the scene, working with local authorities to prepare for the storm and assist with evacuations. Philippine Red Cross teams are scattered across the east coast, helping to organize first aid teams, food and water, and supplies such as blankets and safety equipment.
“The Philippines is tough, but this super typhoon is a bitter blow to millions of people who are still recovering from devastating storms, floods and Covid-19 over the past year,” said Richard Gordon, president of the Philippine Red Cross, in a press release on Thursday.
Super Typhoon Rai is the 15th storm to sweep across the country this year, exacerbating the struggles of those still recovering. Millions of people are still rebuilding their homes and livelihoods, according to the Red Cross, especially after several devastating storms late last year.
Reuters contributed to the report.