MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippines' first typhoon of the year, Ambo, hit land on Thursday, as millions on its path who are reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic braced for heavy rains and strong winds.
The storm with international name Vongfong made landfall over San Policarpo, Eastern Samar at past noon. It was packing maximum sustained winds of 155 kilometers per hour and 190 kph gusts as of 1 p.m., said PAGASA.
Eastern Samar earlier converted its evacuation centers into quarantine facilities for some 4,000 people, none of whom had tested positive yet for the virus, said Eastern Samar Governor Ben Evardone.
Evardone said he had no updates yet on how many people fled coastal areas since strong winds and rains began lashing the province before dawn.
"Hindi naman puwedeng dalhin namin doon iyong mga evacuees sa mga centers lalo na kung mayroon dong naka-ano na COVID. Hindi puwedeng paghalo-haluin iyon," he told DZMM.
(We can't bring the evacuees to the centers especially those with potential COVID carriers. You can't mix them up.)
"Papaano iyong social distancing?" he added.
(How can you implement social distancing?)
Physical distancing to halt the spread of COVID-19 should be observed in typhoon shelters, said Health Usec. Maria Rosario Vergeire.
Ambo on Thursday will bring heavy to intense rains over Samar Provinces, Masbate, Sorsogon, and Catanduanes. Albay, Camarines Sur, while the rest of Eastern Visayas will experience moderate to heavy rains, said PAGASA.
On Friday, heavy to intense rains will continue in Bicol Region while moderate to heavy rains will hit Northern Samar, Quezon, Aurora, Marinduque, and Romblon, said the weather bureau.
"Potentially life-threatening" storm surges that are 2 to 4 meters high may also hit Northern Samar, Eastern Samar (east coast), Samar (west coast), Sorsogon, Albay, Catanduanes, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Quezon, and Aurora, warned PAGASA.
Some 400,000 people are expected to flee from landslide and flood-prone areas in Northern Samar to unused isolation facilities intended for COVID-19 patients, said the province's chief disaster officer Josh Echano.
Quarantine facilities will also host Sorsogon residents who will be evacuated from coastal areas, provincial disaster office head Raden Dimaano told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo.
In Albay, a "culture-based" evacuation will let 8 families who know each other share one classroom, down from 10 families during previous storms, said the province's disaster chief Cedric Daep. Churches will also take in evacuees.
Metro Manila, home to a tenth of the country's 100 million people and several urban centers, is on lockdown or enhanced community quarantine until Friday. It will be eased into a "modified" ECQ from Saturday for the first time in 2 months.
The ECQ and general community quarantine, with fewer restrictions, bars or limits public transportation and business and requires people to stay at home. From May 16, Metro Manila, Laguna and Cebu City will be the only areas placed under modified ECQ while the rest of the country will be under GCQ.
Visit the ABS-CBN Weather Center for more updates.