The sheer strength of the typhoon is expected to badly devastate the Philippines, which is already reeling from two other typhoons and a coronavirus epidemic that has caused a recession and record unemployment earlier this year.
The storm, however, bypassed the densely populated capital Manila, just showering it with rain, before it passed on into the West Philippine Sea.
Only seven deaths have been reported so far, including a child who was swept away in a flood, but the true scope of the casualties often takes days to assess after a typhoon.
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 (3 meters) — making it “a particularly dangerous situation.”
The government announced Sunday that almost 347,000 affected people were evacuated, but the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said that figure could rise to a million. At 8 a.m., 10 electricity cooperatives had lost power.
In the eastern province of Camarines Sur, a light tower snapped like a matchstick in a video uploaded by a local congressman. Another video showed a hanging bridge whipped by the wind, like a jump rope.
Airports in the cities of Naga and Legazpi were also damaged, with the roofing and ceiling boards blown away.
Airport and train operations in the capital region, Metro Manila were suspended.
Online, the top trend on Twitter was #NasaanAngPangulo — translated as ‘where is the president?’ — as the government began its briefing on the typhoon after it made landfall without President Rodrigo Duterte. It was later revealed he had opted to ride out the storm from his hometown Davao City, well out of the typhoon’s path.
Hitting Catanduanes Island weakened the storm and by midday its peak winds were estimated to be around 150 mph, equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane, as it was passing Camarines Sur.
The effects of the typhoon have previously been described as a “double whammy” on top of covid-19, as the Philippines has recorded more 380,000 coronavirus cases, around 7,200 deaths and widespread job losses.
The Health Department said it would make sure generators and lifesaving equipment were provided to hospitals, anticipating power outages due to the storm. It previously also said safety officers were needed to check on sanitation and monitor covid-19 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. On top of the consecutive storms — Goni is the third to hit the Philippines this week — their employees have been out of work due to the pandemic.
Surfing instructors have had to take on odd jobs in construction, cutting hair, and electric goods repair to name a few.
“If we wait for Baler to open, and with all the typhoons, we’ll really lose a source of income,” said Jayson Iglesias, 35, who runs El Dawn Surfing School. His business normally earns up to $2,000 a month in the peak season, he added.
Marianne Oreta, who manages El Niño Surf School in Baler, is also waiting out the typhoon as her partner Erly Niño Zaldivar is braving the storm in disaster relief operations. He used to run the school with her, but has since supported the couple with the allowance he scrapes together as an emergency worker. The pandemic has left the pair unemployed.
“It’s in our nature to help,” said Oreta. “He doesn’t want to waste time, and even if there’s no salary, he just keeps going.”
A mere tropical storm on Wednesday, Goni erupted into 2020’s most powerful cyclone on the planet by Friday. On Sunday morning local time, its winds peaked at 195 mph, the globe’s strongest storm since Hurricane Dorian in 2019, which devastated the northwest Bahamas. It is the most intense storm in the western Pacific since Typhoon Meranti in 2016.
The Philippines, with the Pacific Ocean to its east and located on the earthquake-prone Ring of Fire, is no stranger to disaster. Of the 20 tropical cyclones estimated to enter the region every year, around eight or nine make landfall in the Philippines.
This typhoon threatens the country just days after Typhoon Molave struck, killing at least 22 people, mostly just south of Manila, according to Reuters. Goni is following a similar path.
Samenow reported from Washington.