MANILA, Philippines – Villagers fled their coastal homes and sparked panic-buying in grocery stores and gas stations in a central Philippine region Thursday as an approaching powerful storm brought back nightmares of last year's deadly onslaught from Typhoon Haiyan.
Government forecasters said Typhoon Hagupit, which was packing sustained winds of 122 mph and gusts of up to 230 kph, may hit Eastern Samar province on Saturday and barrel inland along the same route where Haiyan leveled villages and left more than 7,300 dead and missing in November last year.
Haiyan survivor Emily Sagales said many of her still-edgy neighbors in central Tacloban city, which was worst hit by Haiyan, have packed their clothes and fled to a sports stadium and safer homes of relatives. Long lines have formed at grocery stores and gas stations as residents hoarded basic goods, she said.
Sagales, who gave birth to a baby girl in a crowded makeshift clinic filled with the injured and the dying near the Tacloban airport in the aftermath of last year's typhoon, said the approaching storm had triggered bad memories.
"The trauma has returned," the 23-year-old Sagales said, adding she packed her clothes Thursday after officials in her village alerted everyone that they might have move. "It's worse now because I didn't have a baby to worry about last year and I had not experienced how it was to be right in the middle of a big typhoon."
Hotels in Tacloban reported that they were running out of rooms as wealthier families booked ahead for the weekend.
"The sun is still shining but people are obviously scared. Almost all of our rooms have been booked," said Roan Florendo of the Leyte Park hotel, which lies near San Pedro bay in Tacloban city but sits safely atop a hill.
As part of the preparations, President Benigno Aquino's government has put the military on full alert and civic workers have begun preparing evacuation centers and transporting food packs to far-flung villages, which could be cut off by heavy rains.
Aquino on Thursday led an emergency meeting of disaster-response agencies to check preparations and ordered authorities to take steps to prevent panic-buying and hoarding of basic goods.
Some towns in Hagupit's predicted path said schools will be shut on Friday. Officials also decided to move the venue of a meeting next week of the Asia-Pacific Economic forum, which was to be attended by hundreds of diplomats from 21 member economies, from Albay province, which could be lashed by the typhoon, to the capital Manila, which forecasters say will likely be spared.