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‘Ompong’ whips Northern Luzon today




TYPHOON “Ompong” (interna­tional name “Mangkhut”) retained its ferocious strength and slightly shifted towards more densely populated coastal provinces as it barreled closer to Northern Luzon where a massive evacuation was under way yesterday.

More than 5.4 million people are at risk from the storm, which the Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center categorizes as a super typhoon with powerful winds and gusts equivalent to a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane.

A huge raincloud band 900 ki­lometers wide, combined with seasonal monsoon rains, means the typhoon will bring heavy to intense rains that could set off landslides and flash floods.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration has raised tropical cyclone warning signal No. 3 over some areas in Northern Luzon as the storm moved closer towards the region.

Areas under the Signal No. 3 were Cagayan, including the Babuyan Group of Islands, Apa­yao, Abra, Kalinga, Mountain Province, Ifugao, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, northern Aurora, and Isa­bela.

Signal No. 2 was raised in Ba­tanes, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Benguet, Pangasinan, Tar­lac, Nueva Ecija, southern Aurora, and northern Zambales while sig­nal No. 1 was raised in Metro Ma­nila, Pampanga, Bataan, southern Zambales, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, Batangas, Laguna, Quezon, in­cluding Polillo Island, northern Occidental Mindoro, including Lubang Island, Northern Oriental Mindoro, Masbate, Marinduque, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Albay, Sorsogon, Burias and Ticao Islands, and Northern Samar.

The State weather bureau said there is a possibility that more ar­eas may be placed under a higher storm warning signal before Om­pong’s expected landfall in the Cagayan-Isabela area between 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. today.

At noon yesterday, Ompong was located 540 kilometers east of Baler, Aurora, moving west-north­west at 20 kilometers per hour and packing maximum sustained winds of 205 kph and gustiness of up to 255 kph near the center.

PAGASA senior weather special­ist Chris Perez said Ompong may already be at its peak but they are not ruling out the possibility that it can further strengthen before landfall.

Perez added that Ompong may only stay at the upper limit of the typhoon category as its possibility of being a super typhoon is slim.

This morning, Ompong will be in the vicinity of Kabugao, Apayao and 660 kilometers west of Bas­co, Batanes or outside the PAR tomorrow morning. On Monday morning, it will be 1,310 kms west of Basco.

The typhoon is approaching at the start of the rice and corn harvesting season in Cagayan, a major agricultural producer, and farmers were scrambling to save what they could of their crops, Gov. Manuel Mamba said. The threat to agriculture comes as the Philippines tries to cope with rice shortages.

After the Philippines, the Hong Kong Observatory predicts Mang­khut will plow into the Chinese mainland early Monday morning south of Hong Kong and north of the island province of Hainan still a typhoon with maximum sus­tained winds of 175 kph.

The observatory warned of rough seas and frequent heavy squalls, urging residents of the densely populated financial hub to “take suitable precautions and pay close attention to the latest information” on the storm.

National Disaster Risk Reduc­tion and Management Council Ad­ministrator and Office of Civil De­fense chief Ricardo Jalad told an emergency meeting led by Presi­dent Duterte Thursday that about 4.2 million people in Cagayan, Is­abela, and outlying provinces are vulnerable to the most destructive effects near the typhoon’s 125-ki­lometer-wide eye. Nearly 48,000 houses in those high-risk areas are made of light materials.

As of yesterday, the number of individuals at risk from Ompong increased to 5.4 million while 2,298 families or 9,107 persons were evacuated in the the Ilocos region, Cagayan Valley, and Cor­dillera Administrative Region as part of preemptive measures, the NDRRMC said.

NDRRMC spokesperson Edgar Posadas said estimates have since increased as weathermen moni­tored a change in the tropical cy­clone’s path.

The typhoon was initially pro­jected to make landfall in north­ern Cagayan but it slightly shifted and will hit land between Isabela and Cagayan.

The evacuated individuals were temporarily housed in 2,112 evac­uation centers in Luzon, Posadas said, adding that 983,100 of them are living below the poverty line. “Sila ‘yung mga naghihikahos and therefore, what is the point to this? Sila po ‘yung once na me­dyo ma-hit ng bagyo, mas maaa­pektuhan sila dahil wala silang masyadong coping mechanisms,” Posadas explained.

The change in the typhoon’s path has projected Isabela to be the most affected province with 1.57 million people at risk while Cagayan is next with 1.2 million.

Across Northern Luzon, resi­dents covered glass windows with wooden boards, strengthened houses with rope and braces, and moved fishing boats to safety.

Duterte asked Cabinet officials from the North to help oversee disaster-response work if needed, and told reporters it was too early to consider seeking foreign aid.

“It would depend on the sever­ity of the crisis,” Duterte said. “If it flattens everything, maybe we need to have some help.”

Officials said other Northern Lu­zon provinces had started evacuat­ing residents from high-risk areas, including in northern mountain provinces prone to landslides.

Meanwhile, moderate to occa­sionally heavy rains will prevail over Visayas as Ompong contin­ues to enhance southwest mon­soon or “habagat.”

The enhanced habagat is also expected to bring scattered light to moderate to at times heavy rains over Palawan, Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, and Caraga.

Mangkhut, a Thai word for the mangosteen fruit, is the 15th storm this year to batter the Phil­ippines, which is hit by about 20 a year and is considered one of the world’s most disaster-prone coun­tries. Typhoon “Yolanda” (interna­tional name “Haiyan”) left more than 7,300 people dead or miss­ing and displaced over five mil­lion in the Visayas in 2013.