‘Helen’ exits; public told to stay alert for monsoon rainsBy DJ Yap
Inquirer Central Luzon, Inquirer Northern Luzon
Typhoon “Helen” is out but rains remain a threat to people living in low-lying and mountainous areas.
The weather bureau asked the public to remain watchful of rains and winds brought by the storm-enhanced southwest monsoon.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) lowered all public storm signals nationwide as Helen exited the country on Thursday.
Pagasa reissued its warning to residents living in low-lying and mountainous areas affected by the southwest monsoon for possible flash floods and landslides.
The storm’s exit offered some relief for millions of people struggling to recover from a brutal few weeks of monsoon rains that claimed 109 lives.
However, civil defense chief Benito Ramos said floods could still hit the Cagayan River basin, a farming region of more than 2 million people as runoff from storm-induced rains descend from surrounding mountain ranges.
“The storm is gone but we’re still on red alert. In 10 hours we’d know how much water would descend on Cagayan River,” Ramos said.
Helen strengthened into a typhoon on Thursday and was heading toward the coast of southern China west of Hong Kong.
The storm swept across Luzon on Wednesday, dumping heavy rain on the Cagayan basin and other areas in the north, leading to the deaths of four people.
But the storm also caused more bad weather in other parts of Luzon, including Metro Manila and surrounding farming regions where an intense deluge triggered by another storm caused devastating floods last week.
Those floods, which came after nearly a fortnight of relentless rain that soaked the ground and filled rivers, killed at least 105 people, according to the government’s latest tally.
The government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said it was still providing relief aid to nearly a million people adversely affected by last week’s floods, including more than 216,000 at evacuation centers.
Floods that persisted in the farming provinces surrounding Manila had started to recede, and the number of people in evacuation centers was about half the peak over the weekend.
At 4 a.m. Thursday, Helen was spotted at 290 kilometers west northwest of Laoag City, Pagasa said.
The storm was still packing maximum sustained winds of 85 kph near the center and gustiness of up to 100 kph, and was forecast to move west northwest at a speed of 24 kph.
By afternoon, Helen should already be well out of the Philippine area of responsibility at 530 km west northwest of Laoag City, Pagasa said in an advisory.
In its 5 p.m. bulletin, Pagasa said the western section of Luzon would experience occasional to frequent rains because of the monsoon, while Mindanao would have mostly cloudy skies with scattered rain showers and thunderstorms.
The rest of the country will be partly cloudy to cloudy with isolated rain showers or thunderstorms, it said.
Moderate to strong winds blowing from the southwest will prevail over Luzon and its coastal waters will be moderate to rough. Elsewhere, winds will be light to moderate coming from the south with slight to moderate seas.
Ramos said he expected most people would be able to return to their flood-damaged homes within a week.
But Ramos said more than 12,000 families, or about 60,000 people, had lost their homes completely and would need temporary shelters for a longer period.
Anna Lindenfors, country head for aid group Save the Children, warned that the millions of people affected by the floods faced months of miserable and dangerous conditions either inside or outside evacuation centers.
“The need is massive and urgent—millions of people are suffering the miserable consequences of these floods and we must try to reach them before the rains hit again,” she said in a statement.
Damage to crops
In Cagayan province, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) reported that at least P500-million worth of unhusked rice and corn were destroyed by floods.
In Isabela province, agriculturist Danilo Tumamao said rains dumped by Helen in the past two days did not leave widespread destruction to farms and crops in the province, except in about 10 hectares of corn farms in San Pablo, Santa Maria, Cabagan, San Agustin and Palanan towns, and Ilagan City.
Governor Faustino Dy III said the 500 villagers in the eastern coastal towns of Palanan and Maconacon had returned to their houses after the storm passed on Wednesday.
The 360-megawatt Magat Dam’s gates in Ramon town remained closed after rains stopped in the province.
In La Union province, floodwaters in 169 villages in 12 towns and one city started receding on Thursday.
Provincial officials said 5,135 people, who evacuated on Wednesday as floodwaters rose, returned home on Thursday.
Reports from La Union officials said the floods destroyed P2.1 million worth of palay and vegetables in the province.
Pio Adamor Dagang, provincial information officer, said bangus and tilapia fingerlings in the province’s hatchery were washed away by floods.
In Ilocos Norte province, officials and residents in Paoay town, which was hit hard by Helen, started removing heaps of trash and debris on a creek that caused floodwaters to swamp two villages at the height of the storm on Wednesday.
In Central Luzon, the storm spared Aurora as only mild rains occurred there since Tuesday, said engineer Elson Egargue, head of the PDRRMC in Aurora.
In Pampanga province, the number of flooded villages decreased from 395 last week to 182 on Thursday. Nearly half a million residents live in the flooded communities.
These villages remained flooded as rainwater from Nueva Ecija and sections of Sierra Madre in Central Luzon started flowing downstream of the Pampanga River, said Joel Mapiles, provincial information officer.
Neck-deep in Masantol
Eight coastal villages in Masantol town, which faces Manila Bay, are submerged in neck-deep water. Residents have made temporary shelters on top of a dike in the town while those in Barangay Sagrada Familia took refuge in an evacuation center built beside the dike.
Classes in the second district towns of Guagua, Lubao, Sasmuan, Sta. Rita, Porac and Floridablanca resumed on Thursday after Pampanga Governor Lilia Pineda lifted the alert for lahar flows from the damming of rainwater in Porac’s upland areas due to landslides. With reports from Yolanda Sotelo, Cristina Arzadon and Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon; Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon, and AFP