MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A powerful super typhoon slammed into the eastern Philippines with ferocious winds Sunday, killing at least seven people and causing volcanic mudflows to bury houses before weakening as it blew toward Manila, where the capital’s main airport was shut down, officials said.
Typhoon Goni hit the island province of Catanduanes at dawn with sustained winds of 225 kilometers (140 miles) per hour and gusts of 280 kph (174 mph). It was barreling west toward densely populated regions, including Manila, and rain-soaked provinces still recovering from a typhoon that hit a week ago and left at least 22 people dead.
Gov. Al Francis Bichara said at least four people were killed in his hard-hit province of Albay, including a father and son who were in a rural community that was hit by mudflows and boulders swept down from Mayon Volcano by heavy rains. Villagers fled to safety as the typhoon approached, but the two apparently stayed put, he said.
“The child was found 15 kilometers (9 miles) away,” Bichara told DZMM radio, adding that the child was swept away by mudflows and floodwaters.
Three other villagers, including one pinned down by a tree, were killed in Albay, the Office of Civil Defense said.
Ricardo Jalad, who heads the government’s disaster-response agency, said the typhoon’s destructive force was capable of causing major damage. “There are so many people who are really in vulnerable areas,” he said.
The Philippine weather agency reinforced those concerns, saying that within 12 hours after the typhoon blasted into shore, people would experience “catastrophic, violent winds and intense to torrential rainfall.”
Residents were warned of likely landslides, massive flooding, storm surges of up to 5 meters (16 feet) and powerful winds that can blow away shanties. But as in past storms, some refused to heed the warnings.
In Quezon province, villager Diane Joco scrambled with her husband, parents, siblings and cousin out of their flimsy houses on stilts on the shore of Calauag town, but stayed close by in a neighbor’s sturdier house near the coast to guard their own homes.
“We should be nearby to be able to repair any damage to our house quickly, otherwise it will fall apart and be blown away. We have no other house,” Joco said by phone. She suddenly yelled as she spoke, saying that a part of the tin roof of her neighbor’s house was nearly ripped off by a frightening gust.
One of the most powerful typhoons in the world this year, Goni has evoked memories of Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, flattened entire villages, swept ships inland and displaced more than 5 million in the central Philippines in November 2013.
Goni weakened before nightfall, with sustained winds of 165 kph (102 mph) and gusts of up to 230 kph (143 mph), but remained dangerously strong, forecasters said.
Jalad, the disaster-response official, said nearly a million people were preemptively moved into emergency shelters.
Forecasters said the typhoon’s eye may pass about 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of metropolitan Manila, the sprawling capital region of more than 13 million people, around nightfall on Sunday.
Manila’s main airport was ordered shut down for 24 hours from Sunday to Monday, and airlines canceled dozens of international and domestic flights. The military and national police, along with the coast guard, were put on full alert.
In a Manila gymnasium that was turned into an emergency shelter, displaced residents worried about COVID-19 outbreaks. The Philippines has had more than 383,000 cases of the virus, the second-most in Southeast Asia behind Indonesia.
“We are scared — our fears are doubled,” said Jaqueline Almocera, a 44-year-old street vendor who took cover at the shelter. “The people here are mixed, unlike when you’re at home, safe and we don’t go out. Here you interact with other evacuees.”
Hundreds of COVID-19 patients were moved to hospitals and hotels from tent quarantine centers as the typhoon blew closer to the country, Jalad said.
The Philippines is lashed by about 20 typhoons and storms each year. It’s also located on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.
Associated Press photojournalist Aaron Favila contributed to this report.