Typhoon “Ompong” (international name: Mangkhut) barreled into the Philippine Area of Responsibility Wednesday, bringing with it the threat of torrential rain that could exceed the levels experienced during Tropical Storm “Ondoy,” which inundated Metro Manila in 2009, the weather bureau said.
Forecast to be the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year, “Ompong” is expected to make landfall in the northern tip of Cagayan on Saturday, bringing very strong winds and six-meter-high storm surges in coastal areas along the path of the typhoon, weather forecaster Chris Perez said.
Agriculture officials said the typhoon could damage more than P11 billion worth of rice and corn crops if it hits northern Luzon, further aggravating food supply problems.
“The typhoon may reach a peak intensity of 220 to 270 kilometers per hour,” the weather bureau said.
Tropical cyclone warning signal no. 1 could be raised in Cagayan, Isabela, Aurora, Camarines Norte, and Camarines Sur.
“Ompong” intensified, packing maximum sustained winds of 205 kph near the center, and gustiness of up to 255 kph. It was moving west at 20 kph.
Heavy rains due to the enhanced monsoon are expected in Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, Siquijor, Surigao del Norte, Agusan del Norte, Dinagat Island, and Lanao del Sur.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on Tuesday warned that “Ompong” may damage more than P11 billion worth of rice and corn crops if it hits northern Luzon.
“In the worst-case scenario… if it hits northern Luzon, rice alone will lose about P7 billion, and corn around P4 billion,” Piñol told lawmakers during budget hearings.
He said this is because some rice and corn crops in the region are still in the vegetative state, even while the harvest season has already begun.
“So I am praying that it won’t hit extreme northern Luzon because it could be devastating and could change the figures altogether,” Piñol said.
Weather forecasters said the typhoon threatens northern Luzon and may traverse the Cagayan-Batanes area on Saturday.
A report from ING Bank warned that “Ompong” could drive food prices higher if it does widespread damage to crops in northern Luzon.
“This could exacerbate price pressures in the Philippines as the harvest season is just about to begin,” the bank said.
Reports early this week said farmers in Cagayan and Isabela, two of the country’s top rice and corn-producing provinces, were rushing to reap their harvests as the typhoon approached.
Cagayan has harvested less than 10 percent of its produce from 130,000 hectares of rice fields, Gov. Manuel Mamba said in a statement.
High food prices drove the inflation rate to 6.4 percent in August, a nine-year high.
The Palace on Wednesday reminded the public to be alert and ready as “Ompong” approached the country’s area of responsibility.
“We remind the public to be alert and safe because of the approaching storm,” said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque in a Palace press briefing.
Roque said the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and the Department of Social Welfare and Development have already prepared standby funds, food packs, and other relief assistance.
Roque said several government agencies involved in disaster preparedness are now in contact with each other to facilitate quick emergency response to those who will be gravely affected by the coming storm.
He urged the public to take precautionary measures by knowing the evacuation plan and preparing flashlights, radio, battery, sufficient amount of food, water supply, and first-aid kits.
“Please stay inside your houses and refrain from going outside if not necessary for your safety,” said Roque. “Let us pray for the safety of all.”
The Manila International Airport Authority on Wednesday announced it will close airport terminals and aerodromes if “Ompong” hits the country with maximum sustained winds of 35 knots crosswind.
MIAA officials led by its general manager Eddie Monreal met with members of Airline Operators Council to discuss contingency plans and possible measures in anticipation of the bad weather.
“We need your advance advisories regarding your planned cancellation or delay flight so we can disseminate the information to all passengers and employees who will be affected by the typhoon,” Monreal told AOC officials during the meeting.
“The Passengers Bill of Rights will be strictly implemented during the closure of the airport,” Monreal said.
On Wednesday, Senator Grace Poe urged MIAA and airlines officials to prioritize passenger welfare with the looming cancellation of flights as a result of “Ompong.”
“A typhoon is approaching the country. Please call up passengers if their flights are canceled or prepare food at the airport,” said Poe over radio dzMM.
She also noted that the Ninoy Aquino International Airport has standby funds of some P200 million that can be used for emergency response.
Trade and Industry Undersecretary for Consumer Protection Ruth Castelo assured the public that there is an ample supply of rice in case the typhoon damages crops.
“Yes, we have 5 million bags coming in October. And then, the DTI has already initiated importing rice also as assistance to the NFA [National Food Authority],” Castelo said. “We are on standby because we also need to seek the approval of the NFA Council before we can do this.”
Public Works Secretary Mark Villar said his department’s Regional and District Disaster Response Teams nationwide will deploy heavy equipment to high-risk areas to ensure the structural integrity of vital roads, bridges, and high-rise public buildings.
The department, he added, is coordinating with the weather bureau, the Office of Civil Defense, the Army, the police, and local government units to monitor and submit timely situational reports of national roads and bridges every six hours and provide prompt assistance during the onset of the typhoon.
Villar said all teams are likewise responsible for the initial assessment of damage as well as the submission of detailed information on damaged structures with cost estimates for the restoration of calamity-hit structures.
Motorists are advised that a section of the Basco-Mahatao-Ivana-Uyugan-Imnajbu Road is temporarily closed to traffic due to a landslide. Clearing operations are ongoing, and motorists may take Uyugan-Mahatao Interior Road as an alternative route.
The Metro Manila Development Authority announced it was preparing for “Ompong.”
MMDA chairman Danilo Lim tapped heads of the agency’s quick response units to ensure the readiness of all assets and personnel to respond during emergencies.
The agency’s assets and emergency equipment on standby include seven ambulances, two tow trucks, two military trucks, two fire trucks, a boom truck, seven chainsaws, man-lift, rubber boats, and extrication equipment.
Personnel of the agency’s emergency stations in the area of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in Roxas Boulevard, Orense Street, Ortigas Avenue, and Timog Avenue; Circumferential Road-5 in Libis, Commonwealth Avenue, Tandang Sora Avenue and Nagtahan were also placed on blue alert.
With about 20 tropical cyclones entering the country every year, the MMDA reminded the public to heed warnings and take all precautions to protect health and ensure safety.
The NDRRMC has also called on people living in flood and landslide-prone areas to undertake necessary preparations as early as possible and heed calls by authorities for pre-emptive evacuation.
The initial effects of “Ompong” will be felt in Catanduanes during its approach and Signal No. 1 has been hoisted over the province.
The NDRRMC said heavy rains and strong winds may be experienced over northern Luzon and parts of Central and Southern Luzon and surrounding seas are expected to be rough to very rough.
Metro Manila is likely to be placed on Signal No. 1.
The Philippine National Police and the military have alerted their personnel in the provinces along Ompong’s path to mobilize all search and rescue units to respond to emergencies.
The NDRRMC Operations Center is currently on red alert and the Response Cluster has been activated.
The local government unit of Maasin City in Southern Leyte has declared the suspension of classes in all levels both private and public in the city on Sept. 13 to 14. With Joel E. Zurbano, Francisco Tuyay, Vito Barcelo and PNA
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