Tens of thousands of people were forced into cramped shelters by the powerful storm pounding the Philippines on Friday, making social distancing nearly impossible as the nation battles the coronavirus pandemic. The storm hit as tens of millions of Filipinos are hunkered down at home against the coronavirus, but at least 141,700 had to flee in central Bicol province because of the powerful storm, disaster officials said.
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Authorities have said they will run shelters at half of capacity, provide masks to people who don’t have them, and try to keep families grouped together. It is not unheard of for disasters to overlap in the Philippines, and some 22,000 people were evacuated from the slopes of the active Mayon volcano ahead of the typhoon’s arrival.
Typhoon Vongfong flattened flimsy coastal homes when it roared ashore on central Samar island on Thursday but then weakened into a severe tropical storm on its path north to the capital Manila.
“We have to wear masks and apply to distance at all times,” local police official Carlito Abriz told AFP. “It’s difficult to enforce because they (the evacuees) are stressed. But we are doing our best.”However, many spaces normally used as storm shelters have been converted into quarantine sites for people suspected of being infected with the coronavirus.
Bicol saw less damage than hard-hit Samar, so some of those in shelters had begun to return home after the storm passed on Friday, disaster officials reported.
“The challenge really lies in the physical distancing,” said disaster official Junie Castillo, who added they were housing people in classrooms emptied by the pandemic.
Fortunately, the central region where the storm struck first is not one of the hotspots of the Philippines‘ outbreak, which has seen 11,876 reported infections and 790 dead.
Tens of millions more people live along Vongfong’s path, which is forecast to take it near the densely populated capital Manila later Friday or early Saturday.
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