MANILA — The Philippines is bracing for a harrowing Halloween night as Typhoon Goni, the strongest storm in the world this year, is set to pass over its largest island.
In Naga City, over 200 miles east of Manila, Almira Miray Martinez and her family have put weights and tied rope around their galvanized metal roof. They covered their windows with material from rice sacks and tarpaulin to keep the rain out.
Their clothes are packed in a garbage bag, so they won’t get wet. She, her husband and two sons, ages 17 and 20, are staying awake. They must make sure the drainage outside their house is not clogged by wood or debris, so as not to cause a flood.
“We could leave, but the reality of people like us — those who are hard up — is that the things we own are very hard to replace,” Martinez said. “We could let go of material things like the TV, refrigerator, table — but we’ll only leave [these] if we really have to.”
A mere tropical storm on Wednesday, Goni erupted into 2020’s most powerful cyclone on the planet by Friday. On Saturday morning local time, its winds peaked at 185 mph, the globe’s strongest storm since Hurricane Dorian in 2019, which devastated the northwest Bahamas. It was the most intense storm in the western Pacific since Typhoon Meranti in 2016.
The storm gained strength over waters around 86 to 88 degrees (30 to 31 Celsius), about 2 to 3 degrees (1 to 1.5 Celsius) warmer than normal. Such rapid intensification is made more likely by human-caused climate change, which has raised ocean temperatures globally.
By Saturday evening, Goni’s winds had eased slightly to 180 mph and some additional weakening is predicted before landfall Sunday afternoon. Nevertheless, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Pearl Harbor projects Goni will come ashore in central Luzon, east of Manila, with peak winds of 150 mph which is super typhoon-strength and equivalent to a strong Category 4 hurricane.
Forecasters with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAG-ASA) are predicting “destructive typhoon-force winds” and a storm surge of at least 6½ to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) that “may result in life-threatening and damaging coastal inundation.” They are also expecting “heavy to intense rains” capable of producing flooding and landslides.
Ahead of Goni’s arrival, the international airport in Manila announced it would be closed for 24 hours, beginning on Sunday morning. Billboards were rolled up and thousands were ordered to evacuate across Luzon.
The typically crowded setups in evacuation centers — usually in government-built basketball courts and public schools — are taking on a new level of caution due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Health Department on Saturday announced that safety officers were needed to keep a lookout for covid-19 symptoms in these centers.
The Philippines has recorded almost 379,000 coronavirus cases and almost 7,000 deaths, one of the highest in Southeast Asia. It has also had one of the longest and most restrictive lockdowns in the world.
Conditions are forecast to rapidly deteriorate Sunday morning in Luzon and improve late Sunday night into Monday. The storm is forecast to pass directly over Manila, unleashing very heavy rain and the potential for damaging winds.
The Philippines, with the Pacific Ocean to its east and located on the earthquake-prone Ring of Fire, is no stranger to disaster. Of the 20 tropical cyclones estimated to enter the region every year, around eight or nine make landfall in the Philippines, according to PAG-ASA.
This typhoon threatens the country just days after Typhoon Molave struck, killing at least 22 people, mostly just south of Manila according to Reuters. Goni is following a similar path.
The most infamous storm in recent history was Typhoon Haiyan, which pummeled the eastern Philippines in 2013 and left over 6,000 dead. Experts do not expect Goni to be as destructive, but the comparisons — and the trauma from experiencing the storm — have left some Filipinos on edge.
“I hope this will not be like Yolanda,” said Martinez, using the local name for Haiyan. “We would have a difficult time because of the pandemic. It will be hardship twice over.”
Goni is predicted to weaken as it passes over Luzon before emerging over the South China Sea. Additional weakening is forecast as it heads west toward Vietnam where it is expected to come ashore next Wednesday.