Typhoon Heads Towards The Philippines

Sep 14, 2018
Originally published on September 14, 2018 7:48 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're following another powerful storm, this one on the other side of the globe. Super Typhoon Mangkhut slammed into the Philippines' northeastern coast earlier today. NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Manila, and she's on the line now. Hey there, Julie. Can you hear me?

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Yes, I can. Hi.

CORNISH: Hey there. So tell us. How much damage have you been seeing so far? What's the latest?

MCCARTHY: Well, the national authorities are saying that an entire province, Isabela, that sits on the eastern coast is without power. Now, that's 1.6 million people without power. That's how many live there. It's one of the country's top producers of corn. And it bore the frontal assault of this storm. There are no reports of deaths as this typhoon roars over Luzon, which is the largest island of the Philippines. And this is centered in the northern part of that island. A sad casualty while - though, here in Manila. We lost a 200-year-old tree.

CORNISH: We called this a powerful storm. But the title is actually super typhoon, right? Describe the threat that it poses.

MCCARTHY: Well, the National Weather Service is forecasting unprecedented storm surges from 15 to 20 feet. Now, a surge of that magnitude, these are - that's basically caused by winds pushing water on shore. And surges of that size can inundate miles inward. It sweeps people away. It can pull boats up on shore. It kills livestock.

The Red Cross predicts that this storm is going to destroy 1 million tons of rice as it cuts across northern Luzon, which is, as I said, largely an agricultural area. The Civil Defense Office estimated that 48,000 houses made of light material, which is very common up there, are vulnerable to collapse. And as one forecaster said, you know, you can't stand, you can't crawl against these winds, which are clocked in some places between 105 and 135 miles per hour.

CORNISH: In the meantime, how was the evacuation? Is everyone in the path of the typhoon safely out of the way?

MCCARTHY: Well, that's an excellent question because the Civil Defense authorities said last night that - it's early Saturday morning here in the Philippines, and last night they said that 16,300 people have been evacuated. Now, the Red Cross was concerned that that pace was just too slow and that some of these centers were too close to the shoreline.

Fortunately, the northern Philippines is less populated than the area that was struck in 2013 by - you might remember super Typhoon Haiyan, when more than 6,000 people died. But we're still talking here about anywhere from five to 10 million people at risk. You've got television images in the Philippines showing electricity poles exploding. And of course this makes the people who are next in the path in Hong Kong, in China of course doubly worried.

CORNISH: Can you talk a little bit more about 2013? I mean, is the country better prepared than it was then?

MCCARTHY: Well, I think there's been a lot of preparation. But one official told me even though the relief strategies look good, he's worried that they would be tactically - he was worried that - whether they would be tactically carried out on the ground. There are these lessons learned about - from 2013.

Civil Defense has done a lot of education on storm surge. Hundreds of thousands of food packs have been pre-positioned. The police have been deployed near the impact zone to prevent looting. The armed forces are going to take the lead on any search and rescue operation. They're the ones with the manpower and the heavy lift. But this is a monster storm that would tax the ability of even the most sophisticated developed country.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy in Manila. Julie, thank you.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

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