Ambo weakens after forcing 140,000 from homes in virus-hit Philippines

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 15 2020 02:58 PM | Updated as of May 15 2020 10:43 PM

A motorist braving rains and strong wind maneuvers along a highway littered with fallen coconut trees in Can-avid town, Eastern Samar province, May 14, 2020, as Ambo makes landfall. Alren Beronio, AFP

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - Ambo weakened into a severe tropical storm on Friday afternoon after it drove tens of thousands of people into evacuation centers while trying to follow COVID-19 protocols.

The erstwhile typhoon, which has hit land 6 times since Thursday, was spotted 40 kilometers south of Infanta, Quezon at 4 p.m.

Ambo is packing maximum sustained winds of 100 kilometers per hour (kph) near the center and gusts of up to 140 kph, PAGASA said in its latest bulletin.

The severe tropical storm is forecast to hit land over Real or Infanta in northern Quezon between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday, the state weather bureau added.

The first storm to hit the country this year earlier toppled trees, knocked out power lines and destroyed houses, as seen in images shared on social media.

Ambo will continue dumping moderate to heavy with at times intense rains over Quezon, Marinduque, Aurora, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Metro Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, PAGASA said.

The bureau has lifted the third highest storm signal in a 5-step system.

However, the following areas remain under signal no. 2, where winds of 61 to 120 kph may damage poorly constructed signs or billboards and down wooden or old electric posts:

  • Ilocos Norte
  • Ilocos Sur
  • La Union
  • Apayao
  • Abra
  • Kalinga
  • Mountain Province
  • Ifugao
  • Benguet
  • Eastern portion of Pangasinan (San Nicolas, Natividad, San Quintin, Umingan, Balungao, Sta. Maria, Tayug, Asingan, San Manuel, Binalonan, Laoac, Urdaneta, Villasis, Rosales, Sto. Tomas, Alcala, Bautista, Bayambang, Urbiztondo, Basista, Malasiqui, Sta. Barbara, Manaoag, Mapandan, San Jacinto, San Fabian, Pozorrubio, Sison, Mangaldan, Dagupan, Calasiao, Binmaley, Lingayen, Bugallon, Aguilar, San Carlos, Mangatarem)
  • Tarlac
  • Pampanga
  • Metro Manila
  • Bulacan
  • Laguna
  • Cavite
  • Batangas
  • Rizal
  • Marinduque
  • Northern portion of Quezon (General Nakar, Infanta, Real, Mauban, Sampaloc. Lucban, Tayabas, Sariaya, Candelaria, Dolores, Tiaong, San Antonio, Lucena, Pagbilao, Atimonan, Padre Burgos, Agdangan, Plaridel, Unisan, Gumaca, Pitogo, Macallelon, General Luna, Catanauan, Lopez, Buenavista, Guinayangan, Calauag, Tagkayawan, Perez, Alabat, Quezon)
  • Polillo Islands
  • Western portion of Camarines Norte (Santa Elena, Capalonga)
  • Nueva Ecija
  • Nueva Vizcaya
  • Aurora
  • Quirino
  • Western portion of Isabela (Quezon, Mallig, Roxas, Quirino, San Manuel, Burgos, Gamu, Reina Mercedes, Aurora, Luna Cabanatuan, Naguilian, Benito Soliven, Cauayan, San Guillermo, Dinapugue, San Mateo, Alicia, Angadanan, Ramon, San Isidro, Echague, Jones, San Agustin, Santiago, Cordon)

Signal no. 1 was raised in the following areas, where rice crops may suffer significant damage and some banana plants may be tilted:

  • Cagayan including Babuyan Islands
  • Batanes
  • Zambales
  • Bataan
  • Rest of Pangasinan
  • Rest of Isabela
  • Rest of Quezon
  • Rest of Camarines Norte
  • Western portion of Camarines Sur (Del Gallego, Ragay, Lupi, Sipocot, Libmanan, Cabusao)Northeastern portion of Oriental Mindoro (Puerto Galera, San Teodoro, Baco, Calapan, Naujan, Victoria, Socorro, Pola)

FIRST BATTLE WITH TWIN THREATS OF STORM, PANDEMIC

Ambo hit with tens of millions of Filipinos cooped up at home against the coronavirus, but at least 141,700 had to flee because of the powerful storm, disaster officials said.

"We have to wear masks and apply distancing at all times," local police official Carlito Abriz told AFP. "It's difficult to enforce because they (the evacuees) are stressed. But we are doing our best."

Authorities have said they would run shelters at half of capacity, provide masks to people who don't have them and try to keep families grouped together.

Residents wearing masks for protection against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) arrive at a school turned evacuation center as they prepare for Ambo in Legazpi City, Albay province, May 14, 2020. Nino Luces, Reuters

However, many spaces normally used as storm shelters have been converted into quarantine sites for people suspected of being infected with coronavirus.

"The challenge really lies in the physical distancing," said disaster official Junie Castillo, who added they were housing people in classrooms emptied by the pandemic.

"It is a unique situation because it is the first time that we’re going to face a natural hazard like a storm while taking into consideration a pandemic situation," said Mark Timbal, a spokesman for the Office of Civil Defense.

The Philippines has recorded over 12,000 cases of the respiratory disease as of Friday.

Metro Manila on Saturday will ease its 2-month coronavirus lockdown to reboot its shrinking economy and halt job losses that topped the 1-million mark.

-- With reports from Agence France-Presse and The New York Times