May 15, 2020 at 12:48 AM EDT – Updated May 15 at 4:50 AM
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Typhoon Vongfong’s ferocious wind and rain left at least one dead and damaged hundreds of coronavirus isolation facilities and homes, along with rice and corn fields in five hard-hit eastern towns alone, a governor said Friday.
Gov. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar province, where the typhoon slammed ashore, said some residents were weeping in desperation after their houses were destroyed or blown away in the towns he inspected. One distraught villager who lost his home slashed his wrist but was treated in time, he said.
A man bled to death after he was hit by glass shards in a school building he was trying to open to take shelter in, Evardone said.
“The damage I saw was very extensive. The roof of one church was ripped off completely, its iron bars twisted badly by the typhoon,” Evardone told The Associated Press by telephone.
He said that he and his group of military, police and local authorities failed to travel to two towns hit by the typhoon, Jipapad and Maslog, due to fallen trees on the road. Cellphone and two-way radio communications to the far-flung areas were down and Evardone appealed to the military to deploy a helicopter to inspect and carry out food drops if army troops were not be able to reach the area by Saturday.
In the outlying region of Bicol, northwest of Eastern Samar, more than 145,000 people were riding out the weakening typhoon in emergency shelters on Friday after a mass evacuation that was complicated and slowed by the coronavirus.
Vongfong weakened into a severe tropical storm after hitting land Thursday and was blowing northwest toward the populous main northern island of Luzon, government forecasters said.
The typhoon’s maximum sustained wind speed dropped to 110 kilometers (68 miles) per hour with gusts of 150 kph (93 mph) but it remains dangerous especially in coastal and low-lying villages, forecasters said. Vongfong was expected to blow out of the country’s north on Sunday.
Office of Civil Defense Director Claudio Yucot said the evacuations took time because workers needed to wear masks and protective suits and could not transport villagers to shelters in large numbers as a safeguard against COVID-19.
“Our ease of movement has been limited by COVID,” Yucot told AP by telephone from Albay province in the Bicol region, which has had dozens of coronavirus infections, including four deaths, and remains under quarantine. “In the evacuation centers, there are more challenges.”
In an evacuation room, which could shelter up to 40 families before, only four families could be accommodated now. The occupants should know each other and are required to report any infected person, Yucot said.
The coast guard said more than 600 cargo truck drivers and workers were stranded due to the travel suspension. All were required to wear masks and prohibited from mingling.
The typhoon hit as the Philippines struggles to deal with coronavirus outbreaks, largely with a lockdown in Luzon that is to be eased this weekend, except in metropolitan Manila and two other high-risk areas. The rest of the country will be placed in less restrictive quarantine, and crucial businesses will partially reopen starting next week.
The Philippines has reported nearly 12,000 infections, including 790 deaths, among the highest in Southeast Asia.
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