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Super Typhoon Rai slams the Philippines after rapidly intensifying to a Category 5

The storm made landfall on Siargao island and packed winds of 160 mph

A month-old baby was among those rescued from floodwaters after the country was hit by a category 5-equivalent typhoon on Dec. 16. (Video: The Washington Post)

Super Typhoon Rai, called Odette in the Philippines, slammed into the eastern portion of the islands on Thursday afternoon. Making first landfall on Siargao island, the storm was packing sustained winds of 160 mph.

Rai became the fourth Category 5-equivalent typhoon in the western Pacific Ocean this year. It is one of the strongest storms of 2021.

In the day before landfall, Rai rapidly strengthened from a Category 1 to a Category 5-equivalent storm. In 24 hours, the storm increased by 85 mph. It developed a “pin hole” eye, surrounded by extremely strong thunderstorms — characteristics of the most powerful tropical cyclones.

Rapid intensification — or the increase in wind over 24 hours of at least 30 mph — of typhoons and hurricanes is becoming more likely in a warming world. There have been numerous examples in recent history, including Hurricane Ida in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center forecast the storm to weaken as it continues toward the northwest, crossing the Philippines through Friday. From there, forecasters anticipate it will continue north-northwest into the South China Sea, potentially restrengthening as it does, before eventually getting shredded apart by an incoming mid-latitude system.

A foot of rain is likely along Rai’s path as it treks westward through the Philippines, with some locations receiving more. The heavy rain will exacerbate flooding and landslide risks, which have already been heightened following heavy rain in the days before the storm.

Storm surges are the worst part of a hurricane — and will get even more destructive

On the coast, a life-threatening 10- to 14-foot storm surge (water level rise above normal tide) was forecast. Huge, battering waves are also likely.

Nearly 200,000 were evacuated from homes in the landfall region. The initial location of landfall, Siargao, is primarily a tourist destination and relatively less populated. However, a weakened Rai is expected to pass through more highly populated areas.

Cebu City, where a Level 4 out of 5 alert is in place, opened malls for temporary shelter as the storm passes.

Numerous power outages occurred, local and regional air travel has been disrupted, sea traffic halted and many schools also closed. The storm has also caused the Philippine government to pause coronavirus vaccination efforts in affected areas.

So far, authorities have not reported any fatalities.

Rai is the 15th storm to hit the Philippines in 2021, according to CNN. The archipelago is no stranger to super typhoons. Haiyan — known as Yolanda locally — hit the country in a similar region during November 2013, making landfall as one of the strongest typhoons on record.

Unlike the Atlantic Ocean, the western Pacific Ocean does not have a defined typhoon season. Conditions there may be favorable at any time of year, although late summer and fall are favored. As recently as 2016, the Philippines was dealing with Super Typhoon Nock-ten around Christmas.

The country is among the most vulnerable in the world to climate-related weather disasters. Rising seas and warming waters are likely to lead to more frequent and intense storms in the future.

Cabato reported from Manila.