MANILA — Super Typhoon Goni, the world's most powerful storm in four years, crashed through the Philippines on Sunday, smashing buildings, toppling trees, and causing floods and mudslides. At least 10 people were reported dead as of Monday morning.
Goni landed in a country already reeling from two typhoons in the past two weeks, the coronavirus pandemic, a recession and a record unemployment rate this year.
The storm largely spared Manila, the capital and most densely populated city, showering it with rain as it churned toward the West Philippine Sea.
The 10 deaths included a child who was swept away by floodwaters. A full accounting of storm casualties in this island nation often takes days to assess.
Ahead of landfall, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration predicted “catastrophic violent winds and intense to torrential rainfall” and a storm surge over 10 feet — making it “a particularly dangerous situation.”
Authorities said Monday that more than 389,000 people had been evacuated. Two million were affected, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. More than 100 cities and towns had power failures, while others experienced disruptions in water supply.
An initial assessment put agricultural damage at more than $22 million, mostly to crops such as rice and corn, and affecting about 20,000 farmers.
National officials and news outlets struggled to reach Catanduanes Island, and have only established contact through satellite phones. One town reported that more than 200 houses were destroyed. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross and a member of the Philippine Senate, said that more than 6,000 people were scattered across 14 evacuation centers.
Further complicating matters is the absence of the largest broadcasting network, ABS-CBN, after its controversial government-ordered closure earlier this year. The media giant, which aired on free television and radio, had the widest reach of all local media entities, and was a common source of news for far-flung rural communities. Government critics said its absence was missed, as it could have kept the communities that were most affected informed about the storm.
In the eastern province of Camarines Sur, a light tower snapped like a matchstick in a video posted on Facebook by a local member of congress. Another video showed a hanging bridge whipped like a jump rope by winds.
Keith Serrano, a medical student in Manila whose parents are in Camarines Sur, said he last made contact with them at 6:30 a.m. He reached his brother, a police officer who was assigned to conduct rescue operations in vulnerable areas, at 10 a.m.
“He told me that they’re currently stranded at the house of their rescue since the winds are already too strong to permit travel,” Serrano told The Washington Post. Then his brother stopped replying, “which made me anxious, given the situation.”
A bridge in the province of Albay collapsed, a dike gave way and water inundated a residential area. The region is home to the Mayon Volcano; the rains caused rock slides and mud flows from its slopes. Congressman Zaldy Co posted photos of a village buried in a landslide and said an estimated 300 houses were affected and several people were missing.
Flights and trains in the capital region were suspended. The hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo — “Where is the president?” — trended online as the government began its briefing without President Rodrigo Duterte. It was later revealed that he had opted to ride out the storm in his hometown, Davao City, well out of the typhoon’s path.
Hitting Catanduanes Island weakened the storm. By midday local time, peak winds were estimated at about 150 mph, equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane, as it was passing Camarines Sur.
The typhoon has been described here as a “double whammy” on top of the novel coronavirus. The Philippines has reported more than 380,000 coronavirus cases, about 7,200 deaths and widespread job losses.
The Health Department said it would ensure that generators and lifesaving equipment were provided to hospitals in anticipation of power outages. The department had said safety officers were needed to check on sanitation and monitor coronavirus symptoms in typically crowded evacuation centers.
In Baler, Aurora, a tourist town known for its surfing, beachside businesses kept their surfboards in stockrooms ahead of the storm.
A mere tropical storm on Wednesday, Goni grew into the most powerful cyclone of the year on Friday. As it approached landfall on Sunday, winds peaked at 195 mph, making it the most intense storm on the planet since Typhoon Meranti in 2016, which also had 195 mph winds.
The Philippines has extensive experience with cyclones. Of the 20 estimated to enter the region every year, about eight or nine make landfall here.
Goni arrived days after Typhoon Molave killed at least 22 people, mostly just south of Manila, according to Reuters.
Goni followed a similar path. Before it exited the Philippines, Serrano heard back from his brother, who was back in the command center.
“I was relieved and teary-eyed,” Serrano said. He had not heard from his parents. It took two days after Typhoon Molave for power and signal to be restored in their area. With a stronger storm, Serrano said, it might take a month or more.
Samenow reported from Washington.