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The storm rapidly intensified on Thursday morning and was upgraded from a typhoon to a super typhoon, reaching sustained winds of 260 kilometers per hour (160 miles per hour) with gusts over 300 kilometers per hour (185 miles per hour) — equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic.
Parts of the Philippines already began receiving torrential rainfall early in the week; in central Misamis Oriental province, the Agay-ayan River overflowed on Tuesday, flooding streets and homes with muddy brown water.
Thousands of villages in the storm’s projected path are at high risk of flooding and landslide, with the region’s soil already saturated and unsteady from the week’s heavy rain, according to the country’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau, which urged local authorities to prepare evacuation plans.
The center of the storm is expected to make landfall in the country’s central and southern regions. Some of the worst conditions are expected in Surigao Province, which lies on the northern tip of Mindanao, one of the country’s major islands.
The storm is also expected to hit a number of provinces in the country’s central Visayas region, including Samar province. More than 20 million people live in the Visayas, according to 2020 official figures.
In Surigao Province, more than 2,600 people have been evacuated as of Wednesday evening, according to the state-owned Philippine News Agency.
Photos from Surigao show one sports complex turned into an evacuation center, with plastic tents set up in a large hall and families asleep on rugs 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 DZMM radio station. “We are getting pounded already by strong wind and rain,” Evardone said.
In Tacloban City, just outside Samar, hundreds of residents have also taken shelter in evacuation sites. Many lived through Super Typhoon Yolanda, which killed more than 6,000 Filipinos in 2013 — and they’re not taking any chances now.
“Let’s be prepared. No need to panic,” said Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, according to CNN affiliate CNN Philippines. “I do not want to compare this with Yolanda … Just make sure that everything in your house is prepared.”
Airlines have canceled dozens of flights, while transport authorities banned sea and land travel in the central and southern Philippines, leaving thousands stranded at ports.
Humanitarian organizations and aid agencies are also on the ground, working with local authorities to prepare for the storm and assist in evacuations. Teams from the Philippine Red Cross are spread out across the east coast, helping organize first aid teams, food and water, and supplies such as blankets and safety equipment.
“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 Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon in a news release on Thursday.
Super Typhoon Rai is the 15th storm to hit the country this year — compounding the struggles of people still recovering. Millions are still rebuilding their homes and livelihoods, especially after several devastating storms late last year, according to the Red Cross.
Reuters contributed reporting.
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