Tropical storm Pepito (international name Saudel) made its way out of the Philippines on Wednesday, leaving a trail of floods and landslides. At least nine more are expected this year and COVID-19 safety protocols make disaster response complicated, officials said.
A low pressure area or brewing storm was spotted east of Northern Luzon Wednesday, just as Pepito was moving towards the West Philippine Sea, said PAGASA forecaster Shelly Ignacio. It is unlikely to enter the country, however, the agency has readied names for at least nine more for the year, based on the alphabet: Quinta, Rolly, Siony, Tonyo, Ulysees, Vicky, Warren, Yoyong, Zosimo
Pepito was the 16th tropical storm to enter the so-called Philippine Area of Responsibility in 2020. An average of 20 enter PAR every year. In recent years, the strongest ones hit towards the end of the year like Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November 2013.
"Ang challenge po kasi dito yung mismong nagmamando ng ating COVID response sa ground sila rin ang responders natin sa emergencies kagaya ng bagyo, (The challenge, those in charge of COVID response on the ground are the same responders for emergencies like typhoons)," said Mark Timbal, spokesperson of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
"Pagod ang kalaban natin dito (Fatigue is the enemy)," he said.
At all times, evacuees should wear face masks and face shields, Timbal said. Quarantine facilities can't double as evacuation centers, he said.
There should be physical distancing, except among family members. Suspected COVID cases can't be kept in the same spaces as those who don't have the disease, he said.
Timbal said there were no immediate reports of casualties. Floods were reported in some villages in Nueva Ecija and Lopez town in Quezon, both on Pepito's path.