SUPER Typhoon ''Ompong,'' the 15th and strongest storm to hit the country this year, ferociously whirled away towards the West Philippine Sea before sundown Saturday, leaving in its swathe an undetermined value in destroyed agricultural crops and infrastructure and an initial ten people dead and six others missing.
The typhoon struck the northern tip of Luzon and threatened the lives and homes of nearly four million people of the country’s 106 million population.
The violent and unforgiving winds, accompanied by torrential rains, triggered massive landslides and knocked down power lines, leaving posthaste communities in its beaten path without power.
“As we go forward, this number will go higher,” Ricardo Jalad, head of the national civil defense office, told reporters, referring to the death toll.
The two lifeless bodies of the two responders in Baguio City—identified as Shaina Mae Laroco Pascua, 19, and Grace Ganabe, 45—were pulled from the soil of a hillside that collapsed after the storm’s torrential rains, police said.
The third was an unidentified girl in Marikina City in the metropolis.
In Nueva Vizcaya, four members of a family, including a two-year-old toddler and an 8-month old infant, were killed after their house caved in, presidential adviser on political affairs Francis Tolentino said.
Three others were killed in Benguet, Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan said in a radio interview.
In related developments:
• Nine airports in the country were ordered closed on Saturday.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines already sent notice to airmen (Notam) that the airports in Basco, Cauayan, Tuguegarao, Lingayen, Laoag, Itbayat, Vigan and Palanan were closed for commercial operations until late afternoon today.
"So far, these are the airports covered by our Notam," said CAAP spokesperson Eric Apolonio in a text message to Manila Standard.
In Manila, the Manila International Airport Authority media affairs division said 53 flights were suspended Saturday.
Today, PAL, Cebu Pacific, Cathay Pacific, Air Swift, Air Asia and CebGo also suspended some international and domestic flights. Most of those cancelled were flights to and from Hong Kong.
Tomorrow, Cebu Pacific Air and Cathay Pacific suspended their Manila and Hong Kong flights.
• The Department of Health in Tuguegarao, Cagayuan is looking for additional physicians to attend to the 87,000 residents who have fled to evacuation centers.
Dr. Rio Magpantay, Director IV, Regional Office 2 of the DOH said doctors from the regional office would not be enough.
He said he had asked Health Secretary Francisco Duque III for augmentation from the Health Emergency Management Bureau and from the Epidemiologist Bureau.
• In Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, disaster volunteers reported that heavy rains in Nueva Vizcaya had rendered stretches of the Maharlika Highway in Cagayan Valley not passable to traffic since Saturday noon.
Enciong Guballa, a Red Cross volunteer has shown a video footage of road section in Santa Fe where existing flood control dikes failed to contain water from the river to overflow in the road.
As planned by the PDRRMC, Gov. Carlos Padilla sent heavy equipment and personnel to start clearing operations.
• In Pampanga, the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council in Central Luzon distributed a total 79,889 emergency food packages to the residents affected by Ompong in the region Saturday.
Initial reports from disaster council showed a total 19,850 affected families composed of 79,889 persons were served by the Department of Social Service Development and the local government units in the region.
Bobby Manalo, operation officer of the RDRRMC, said the emergency operations center inside the headquarters of Philippines Air Force in Clark was reactivated Saturday.
Manalo said the operation center was equipped with land, sea and air transport system like helicopters and vessels to speed up the relief and rescue and boost the capability of the disaster agencies in helping the victims.
• In the southern part of Metro Manila, more than 6,400 people were evacuated, according to Supt. Jenny Tecson, spokesperson of the Southern Police District.
He said the evacuues were brought to 140 evacuation centers set up in the cities of Taguig, Las Pinas, Paranaque, Muntinlupa, Makati, Pasay and in the municipality of Pateros.
¨In Muntinlupa, the police community precinct 3 conducted police assistance for the distribution of relief goods to the evacuees at Alabang Elementary school. As of this time, there are 495 families and 2,400 individuals in the evacuation center,¨ said Tecson.
The Metro Manila Development Authority also reported that four vehicles were damaged after a Meralco post was knocked down at the westbound lane of Connecticut near Epifanio de los Santos Avenue.
MMDA spokesperson Assistant Secretary Celine Pialago said no one was reported injured in the incident.
• The UNICEF pledged assistance to the government in any and all capacities the government would require.
UNICEF Representative Lotta Sylwander said “Children are the most vulnerable in any emergency situation. UNICEF stands ready to provide support and assistance to the Philippine Government; and to local government units in the affected areas to respond to this brewing storm.
“We also call on parents and local communities to heed the governments’ call to evacuate to safe spaces, to ensure populations, especially children, pregnant mothers, and vulnerable families are safe from possible damage brought about by Ompong.”
UNICEF has prepositioned emergency supplies for about 12,500 families to respond to affected people’s needs for safe drinking water, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, education, and child protection. Sylwander said “The agency is also ready to distribute supplies on very short notice and activate partners for more emergency supplies for immediate distribution. Additionally, UNICEF said it has a cross-sectoral contingency already developed for areas on typhoon’s track.”
As Ompong left the Southeast Asian archipelago and barrelled towards densely populated Hong Kong and southern China, search teams in the Philippines began surveying the provinces that suffered a direct hit.
“We believe there has been a lot of damage,” said Social Welfare Secretary Virginia Orogo as thousands of evacuees took refuge in emergency shelters.
Ompong was packing sustained winds of 170 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 260 km per hour as it left the Philippines.
An average of 21 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year, killing hundreds of people and leaving millions in near-perpetual poverty.
Thousands of people fled their homes in high-risk areas ahead of the storm’s arrival because of major flooding and landslide risks.
Ompong has also left a trail of destruction to agriculture, particularly in the corn capital of Isabela and Nueva Viscaya and the rice granary in Nueva Ecija, inundating low-lying areas as the whirlwind smashed the rest of Luzon.
Capt. Jefferson Somera, spokesman of the Army’s 5th Infantry Division, said Ompong had incurred widespread devastation in Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Viscaya, Apayao, Kalinga and Abra.
He said several roads connecting Ifugao and Mountain Province were not passable. A total 1, 882 families from Region 2 had been evacuated to shelters.
CAR Office of Civil Defense director Ruben Carandang said 28 roads were closed due to landslides, rockslides, obstructed to fallen trees and eroding soil.
Japan Meteorological Agency forecaster Hiroshi Ishihara told AFP on Friday, "Among all the typhoons this year, this one (international name Mangkhut; Philippine name Ompong) is the strongest.”
“This is a violent typhoon. It has the strongest sustained wind (among the typhoons of this year).”
“They (authorities) said this typhoon is twice as strong as the last typhoon, that’s why we are terrified,” Myrna Parallag, 53, told AFP after fleeing her home in the northern Philippines.
“We learned our lesson last time. The water reached our roof,” she said, referring to when her family rode out a typhoon at home in 2016.
The country’s deadliest on record is Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,350 people dead or missing across the central Philippines in November 2013.
Poor communities reliant on fishing are some of the most vulnerable to fierce typhoon winds and the storm surges that pound the coast.
“The rains will be strong and the winds are no joke... We may have a storm surge that could reach four storeys high,” Michael Conag, a spokesman for local civil defense authorities, told AFP.
As the storm headed for China’s southern coast, Cathay Pacific airline said it expects more than 400 flight cancellations over the next three days.
The Hong Kong government said Mangkhut would pose “a severe threat to the region” as many residents in the city and neighboring Macau stocked up on food and supplies.
The president of neighboring Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, told citizens to be ready.
“The typhoon is powerful and even it’s not expected to make a landfall in Taiwan, we should be well prepared and not... take it lightly,” she wrote on Facebook. With AFP, Abe Almirol, Romeo Dizon
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