The Philippines has begun evacuating thousands of people, local officials said on Sunday, as a powerful typhoon rumbled in off the Pacific, bringing heavy rain, strong winds and threatening SEA Games venues.
Forecasters expect Typhoon Kammuri to hit on Monday evening or Tuesday morning, packing gusts of 170kmh (105mph) and maximum sustained winds of 140 kph.
The storm entered Philippine territory on Saturday evening, shortly before President Rodrigo Duterte and boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao launched the Games with a colourful opening ceremony.
This year’s Games in Clark, Manila and Subic, which run through to December 11, are particularly complex with a record 56 sports across dozens of venues that are in some cases hours apart by car, even before Manila’s notorious gridlock traffic is factored in.
Organisers have said there are contingency plans in place for a typhoon, including possible cancellations of outdoor events of the Games, which are mostly in the main Philippine island of Luzon in the country’s north.
Some local government units in central Bicol region have started evacuating people.
More than 800 families (about 3,000 to 4,000 people) are already in evacuation centres, mostly in schools and gymnasiums in Camarines Norte, the disaster management office of the province said.
Local officials were still evacuating some areas so the number was expected to rise, the office added.
Most of those evacuated live in coastal areas and low-lying places where flash floods and landslides are possible due to heavy rains that will be brought by the typhoon.
These are all preemptive evacuations and no mandatory evacuation has been ordered yet, the disaster management office said.
School classes and work in the government in some towns have also been suspended for Monday and Tuesday in anticipation of the heavy rains.
The Philippines, which last hosted the Games in 2005, are aiming to win the most medals, and history is on their side: seven of the last 11 SEA Games hosts have topped the table, reflecting the tradition of rewriting the sporting programme to suit local strengths.
The hosts got off to a flying start on Sunday, scooping several golds at the Dancesport competition and topped the medal table shortly after 1pm with 13 overall.
Around 8,750 athletes and team officials are expected at this year’s 30th edition – the biggest ever – and there are some 12,000 volunteers. Organisers hope more than 500 million viewers will tune in on TV.
In an eclectic programme, Olympic sports like swimming and athletics sit side-by-side with regional favourites such as martial arts pencak silat, arnis and wushu, and this year athletes will even battle an obstacle race course in Manila.