MANILA, Philippines?Typhoon ?Ramil? is expected to make landfall in Cagayan province at noon Thursday and to dump more rain on storm-weary provinces, raising fears of more flooding and landslides.
Ramil (international name: Lupit) retained its strength but slowed down Tuesday afternoon as it neared northern Luzon, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said.
The Catholic Church called on Filipinos to offer a special prayer to spare the country from further devastation, while thousands of people were evacuated from areas prone to floods and landslides in northern Luzon ahead of the powerful typhoon.
The effect of Ramil would be minimal on Metro Manila and Central Luzon but parts of eastern Visayas and Mindanao would also experience rain and winds.
?Ramil is expected to be a much stronger typhoon than the two weather systems we had in the last four weeks,? said Prisco Nilo, the PAGASA director.
As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, Ramil was 680 kilometers east northeast of Aparri, Cagayan. Packing maximum winds of 175 kilometers per hour (kph) and gustiness of up to 210 kph, it was moving west at 15 kph.
PAGASA said the typhoon would hover 360 km east northeast of Aparri Wednesday evening, still packing peak winds of 175 kph and gustiness of up to 210 kph.
Because of a high-pressure area in Hong Kong, Ramil could not move northward from the Philippine Sea and would instead move westward, PAGASA said.
As a result, Ramil would slow down and bring rains and winds to northern Luzon for up to 12 hours, Nilo said.
The country is still recovering from back-to-back storms? ?Ondoy? and ?Pepeng??which brought record-high rainfall that flooded Manila and large swaths of farmland in northern provinces.
Ondoy and Pepeng killed more than 850 people, displaced hundreds of thousands and damaged or destroyed more than P27-billion worth of crops and infrastructure.
Bishop Honesto Ongtioco Tuesday said the Diocese of Cubao had begun saying the Oratio Imperata (Obligatory Prayer).
?We ask that we, our loved ones and our hard-earned possessions be spared from the threat of calamities, natural and man-made,? the prayer said.
The special prayer also asks for forgiveness for sins against nature with the hope that people have learned their lesson not to abuse the environment.
A full-page ad of the prayer from the Diocese of Legazpi was printed in the Inquirer Tuesday. The prayer was said to have helped spare Albay from typhoons and disasters since Supertyphoon ?Reming? struck almost three years ago and killed more than hundreds of people in the province.
More landslides, flash floods
Nilo said Ramil could bring 300 millimeters of rainfall in a six-hour stretch, which would induce more landslides and flash floods.
?From the looks of it, there will be torrential rain from Ramil. And we already have antecedent conditions with Pepeng saturating the earth earlier, especially in the Cordillera region,? Nilo said.
PAGASA advised residents living in landslide-prone areas in northern Luzon, particularly in the Cordillera region, to leave their homes. The Cordillera Administrative Region recorded 238 deaths largely caused by landslides induced by Pepeng.
Softened by Pepeng?s rains
Nathaniel Cruz, PAGASA deputy director, said that the soil in the area had already been softened by rains from Pepeng and that rains expected from Ramil could cause more landslides.
?We would advise residents living in areas prone to landslides to evacuate on their own and not wait for their local governments to tell them so,? Cruz said.
Thousands of residents in northern coastal and mountain areas had started to move to safer areas, said Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres, spokesperson for the national disaster agency.
The Philippine Air Force had also airlifted food, water and medicine to remote areas.
Cruz said Ramil would move southwest as it slowed down. ?This is bad because if it slows down, that would mean a lot of rain for northern Luzon.?
Storm Signal No. 2 was hoisted over the Batanes group of islands, Cagayan (including Calayan and Babuyan Islands) and Isabela.
Storm Signal No. 1 was raised over Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Apayao, Abra, Kalinga, Mountain Province, Benguet, La Union, Ifugao, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Aurora and northern Quezon, including Polillo Island.
Despite the sunny weather in most provinces in the Ilocos, Cagayan Valley and Cordillera regions on Tuesday morning, local governments and residents did not let their guard down and stepped up preparations as Ramil approached extreme northern Luzon.
In Cagayan, where the typhoon is expected to make landfall, Gov. Alvaro Antonio asked all government personnel involved in disaster response to ensure that the province would not suffer a single casualty.
The province has readied rescue and medical teams, trucks and heavy equipment to transport people and clear roads, he said.
He also ordered the evacuation of people living along the Cagayan River banks while the weather was good.
The preemptive evacuation covers residents living in low-lying areas in at least seven towns that are traversed by the Cagayan River and eight coastal towns.
Progress, stockpile of goods
On Tuesday, Catholic priest Fr. Gary Agcaoili went on radio to lead prayers for the safety of Cagayanos.
A provincial government center was also set up in Lallo town, which is located in central Cagayan, where relief goods such as rice, canned goods and medicines have been stockpiled.
Disaster coordinating councils in various towns, like in Aparri and Santa Ana, held emergency meetings on Tuesday to put in place disaster preparedness procedures.
Ambuklao Dam spillway closed
In Benguet province, the spillway gates of the Ambuklao Dam in Bokod town were closed on Tuesday to allow a search for a man who drowned in a river feeding the reservoir.
Virgilio Garcia, hydrologist of National Power Corp. assigned to the San Roque Dam in Pangasinan, said the spillway gates of Ambuklao and Binga dams in Itogon, Benguet, had to be closed to ensure the safety of those searching for the victim.
Garcia said since the search was called off because of darkness on Tuesday night, dam officials had no choice but to open the two dams? gates again.
In Pangasinan, the provincial government placed its personnel on high alert in anticipation of the typhoon.
Butch Velasco, provincial information officer, said the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council conducted a series of meetings with police and local government officials in the past two days to draw up plans in the event of an emergency in Pangasinan, which experienced massive flooding from Oct. 8 to 10.
Sandbagging, police power
Gov. Amado Espino Jr. has ordered the sandbagging of breached dikes along the Agno River to prevent its excess water from flooding residential and agricultural areas.
In Isabela province, Reynaldo Rapadas Jr., village chair of Antagan 1st in Tumauini town, has prepared food, blankets, mats and utensils for 20 families that he expects to be hit by floods once the typhoon brings heavy rains.
In Laoag City, Mayor Michael Farińas said he would exercise police power to drive residents from their houses and move them to evacuation centers if necessary should the typhoon cause flooding in low-lying areas in the city.
Despite sunny weather since Monday, members of the City Disaster Coordinating Council (CDCC) have started gathering their staff to repack relief items and prepare school buildings designated as evacuation centers.
Rubber boats, trucks ready
The CDCC has designated at least four public elementary schools including day care centers and barangay halls as evacuation centers.
In Pampanga province, San Fernando Mayor Oscar Rodriguez asked the CDCC to immediately evacuate residents from low-lying areas once heavy rains pour. He said rubber boats, trucks and relief goods were also readied.
In Candaba town, Mayor Jerry Pelayo has intensified coordination with administrators of Pantabangan Dam in Nueva Ecija.
In Aurora, Provincial Administrator Alex Ocampo said there would be preemptive evacuation of residents along the coast of Dinalungan, Casiguran and Dilasag towns once strong rains batter the province. With reports from Estanislao Caldez, Melvin Gascon, Delmar Carińo, Gabriel Cardinoza, Cristina Arzadon and Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon, and Charlene Cayabyab and Anselmo Roque, Inquirer Central Luzon