TYPHOON Koppu grew stronger and was moving towards the northeastern Philippines yesterday as the government urged local authorities to evacuate residents in flood-prone areas.
Local officials have been advised to conduct the “forced evacuation” of communities that in the past have been hit by flash floods and landslides, as well as coastal villages at risk from destructive storm surges that could reach as high as 10ft, said civil defence chief Alexander Pama.
“The situation is critical because the winds are getting stronger, and it will get stronger as [Koppu] moves closer,” he said.
Regional civil defence chief Norma Talosig said villagers had been voluntarily moving to safer ground or emergency shelters since early yesterday. However, she could not immediately give the number of evacuees.
Heavy rains are expected to inundate many areas on the main northern island of Luzon even before the typhoon makes landfall, which it was due to early today, acting weather bureau chief Esperanza Cayanan said.
Cayanan said another typhoon further east and a high-pressure area north of the country would hold Koppu in a “semi-stationary” position and shroud most of Luzon with an enormous band of thick rain clouds.
“We are looking at the possible worst scenario, not to scare but to allow us to prepare,” Cayanan said.
“If it stays 24 hours … and the downpour is sustained, we will surely have floods and landslides.”
Forecasters said the typhoon’s cloud band had expanded to about 400 miles in diameter by late yesterday, unleashing the most intense rain close to the centre.
By 6pm on Friday, the typhoon was about 125 miles east of Aurora province, where Koppu is predicted to make landfall. It was packing sustained winds of 109mph, and gusts of up to 131mph.
The typhoon slowed to a crawl from 9mph on Friday to 6mph. Forecasters said it could grow stronger before it hits land.
AccuWeather said the combination of a typhoon’s slow movement and its powerful winds “could spell a disastrous situation for residents and communities in its path”.
President Benigno Aquino III appeared on Friday on national television to warn Filipinos about the typhoon and appealed for co-operation to prevent casualties.
It was the first time Aquino had personally issued a storm warning on television since Super Typhoon Haiyan tore through the central Philippines in November 2013, leaving more than 7,300 dead or missing.
Aquino said an estimated 1.5 million families, or about 7.5 million people, would need relief assistance.
He said aid agencies had already distributed emergency supplies to evacuation centres.
Metropolitan Manila, the sprawling Philippine capital with 12 million inhabitants, about 90 miles southwest of Aurora, will be spared from the brunt of the typhoon but it is expected to be drenched with intense rain, forecaster Adzar Aurelio said.
Koppu will likely be equivalent to a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, which could cause devastating to catastrophic damage, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Adam Douty.
Douty said that 12-24in of rain is expected to fall over much of Luzon, but that certain areas could be inundated by more than 36in of rain, which would be “sure to trigger severe and life-threatening flooding and mudslides”.
Typhoon Koppu will be the 12th storm to hit the Philippines this year. An average of 20 storms pummel the country annually.
The Philippines is still reeling from Super Typhoon Haiyan, which killed thousands in 2013. Haiyan, the strongest storm ever recorded on land, destroyed entire towns.
Yesterday, Chris Fawkes of the BBC Weather Centre explained the effects of the two typhoons in the west Pacific: “The complex interaction between these two typhoons and the warm air within these storms helps to build a ridge of high pressure over Taiwan this weekend.
“It is this ridge that effectively traps Typhoon Koppu over the Philippines for a number of days rather than it being able to turn away from the Philippines and out of harm’s way to the South China Sea.
“Some computer models suggest the storm system will still be affecting the Philippines into the middle of next week, which will allow colossal amounts of rain to accumulate – as much as 39in of rain is possible.
“Such extreme rainfall would bring severe flooding to the island of Luzon.