Philippine officials began evacuating thousands of villagers, shut down schools and offices and imposed a no-sail ban on May 29 as Typhoon Mawar approached the country’s northern provinces a week after battering the U.S. territory of Guam.
The typhoon is packing maximum sustained winds of 155 kpm (96 mph) and gusts of up to 190 kph (118 mph) but is forecast to spare the mountainous region a direct hit. Current projections show the typhoon veering northeast toward Taiwan or southern Japan.
Although it's expected to slow down considerably, authorities warned of dangerous tidal surges, flash floods and landslides as it blows past the northernmost province of Batanes from May 30 to May 31. Disaster-preparedness officials said the typhoon’s course could change abruptly and there was no room for complacency.
“Even if the sun is up, the weather is so unpredictable nowadays and could change anytime so we should always stay on the side of safety,” Assistant Secretary Raffy Alejandro of the Office of Civil Defense told The Associated Press. “We're talking here of potential threats to lives."
Mawar tore through Guam last week as the strongest typhoon to hit the U.S. Pacific territory in over two decades, flipping cars, tearing off roofs and knocking down power.
“These typhoons, earthquakes and natural calamities have been a part of our lives,” Batanes Vice Gov. Ignacio Villa told the AP by telephone. “We cannot afford not to prepare because that would potentially mean the loss of lives and major damage.”
Army troops, police, firefighters and volunteer groups were standing by for search and rescue operations in northern provinces and more than a million food packs have been prepared for any contingency, officials said.
More than 4,800 people have been evacuated to emergency shelters in Cagayan, Batanes and other provinces, Mr. Alejandro said. He added that the number of displaced was expected to rise given the precautionary evacuations that were underway on May 29 in flood- and landslide-prone regions.
Classes and office work, except those involved in disaster-preparedness, have been suspended in most of Cagayan and Batanes provinces, where occasional downpours and gusty wind were reported on May 28 night. Flights to and from the provinces have been cancelled and fishing and passenger vessels prohibited from sailing.
In at least one province, officials imposed a liquor ban.
Mr. Villa said the local government lent ropes to villagers living in high-risk communities to strengthen their houses as the typhoon approached.
About 20 typhoons and storms each year batter the Philippine archipelago, which also lies on seismic faults where volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur, making the Southeast Asian nation one of the world’s most disaster-prone.
In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, flattened entire villages, swept ships inland, demolished about a million shanties and houses and displaced more than 5 million in one of the country's poorest regions in the central Philippines.