MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- An approaching typhoon has flooded villages in the eastern and central Philippines, where more than 68,000 people have been evacuated to safety as a precaution although the unusual summer storm may not blow inland, officials said Monday.
Typhoon Surigae was about 235 kilometers (146 miles) east of eastern Catanduanes province on Monday afternoon with sustained winds of 195 kilometers (121 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 240 kph (149 mph). It is forecast to slowly move northwestward and then veer eastward away from the northern Philippines around Thursday.
Vicente Malano, administrator of the government weather agency, said a high-pressure area extending from China to Japan was blocking the typhoon from blowing inland.
The typhoon's wide band of rainclouds and strong winds nevertheless flooded at least 22 villages and caused power outages in four provinces. More than 3,200 people and 43 ferries and cargo ships were stranded in seaports after the coast guard suspended sea travel as the typhoon blew nearer, the government disaster-response agency and the coast guard said.
More than 18,000 families or 68,490 people were evacuated to emergency shelters as a precaution in nine provinces, the disaster agency said. Mayors said they have to open more evacuation centers to ensure social distancing during the pandemic.
"It's really tough, it's toxic, but we have no choice," Mayor Ann Gemma Ongjoco of Guinobatan town in Albay province said by telephone. She said even churches were used to shelter more than 6,100 villagers in her town, including many from communities threatened by mudflows from Mayon, one of the most active volcanoes in the archipelago.
The Philippines is a coronavirus hotspot in Southeast Asia, with health officials reporting 945,745 infections and 16,048 deaths.
About 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year. It also sits in the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire," a seismically sensitive region often hit by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, making the impoverished nation one of the world's most disaster-prone countries.