MACONACON, Isabela?A poor, unknown coastal town in Isabela province named Maconacon got the brunt and the fury of Supertyphoon ?Juan? (international codename: Megi).
Billed as this year?s strongest typhoon, the howler whipped gusts of 260 kilometers per hour and nearly flattened the Maconacon community of 4,000 people.
Divilacan and Palanan like Maconacon face the Pacific Ocean. As seen from the air, the two neighboring towns are patches of wasteland broken only by rows of collapsed houses, and hundreds of fallen coconut trees and electric posts.
As of Wednesday the three towns were still isolated and with no functioning communication and power lines.
The three towns are only accessible by air and by an 18-hour sea travel from Aparri, Cagayan, said Executive Director Benito Ramos of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
Ramos said Isabela was the ?hardest hit.? It was where Juan made its landfall first.
The punishing ordeal may not yet be over.
As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, the typhoon was 350 km west of Laoag City. It maintained its strength and had maximum sustained winds of 175 kph near the center and gusts of 210 kph.
Juan lingered in the country Wednesday and was expected to remain almost stationary up to Wednesday night before slowly moving again, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration.
Juan was forecast to be almost stationary for 12 hours, PAGASA chief forecaster Robert Sawi said at noon Wednesday.
By Thursday afternoon, Juan is forecast to be 430 km west southwest of Batanes.
?A 2-meter storm surge hit our town, inundating coastal villages and washing away houses,? said Maconacon Mayor Erlinda M. Domingo. Three died from the storm surge.
Several homes still standing were left without walls. School buildings were either destroyed or were without roofs. The church was severely damaged.
?[Howling winds] started at about 10 a.m. We panicked and ran for our lives,? said Lalaine Lumauig, 29, mother of three. Juan made landfall at Sierra Madre?s Estagno Point in Isabela at 11:25 a.m. on Monday.
Lumauig said almost all the houses in her village were flattened. ?Now I am living with my sister-in-law. We really need all the help we can get,? she said.
Michael Marcos, 35, said his house was destroyed after a mango tree fell right into it. ?It was the strongest typhoon to hit us. I never experienced anything like this before,? he said.
?We have started providing food and temporary shelter to those who lost their houses but we know that rebuilding would be a problem, with the extent of the damage and lack of funds,? said Isabela Gov. Faustino D. Dy Jr.
The typhoon ?affected? more than 300,000 people, with 11,236 still staying in evacuation centers mostly in northern Luzon, official reports showed. At least 6,109 homes were either damaged or destroyed.
Smart Communications Inc. has set up Libreng Tawag centers in 13 cities and municipalities affected by Juan.
Residents in Baguio City and the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Cagayan, Pangasinan and Isabela are now able to make free national and international phone calls as well as charge their cell phones for free at the Smart Libreng Tawag centers, the firm said in a statement.
As reports started trickling in on Wednesday with the restoration of communication lines and power supply, at least 10 more fatalities in Pangasinan, Tarlac and Zambales were added to the list of victims of the typhoon, bringing to 22 the number of typhoon-related deaths in Luzon.
Pangasinan recorded the highest death toll, with nine typhoon-related fatalities.
Losses to agriculture was pegged at P4.8 billion Wednesday, with rice crops taking the biggest hit, according to a Department of Agriculture official.
Assistant Agriculture Secretary Salvador Salacup said the estimate was based on reports from Regions 1 (Ilocos), 2 (Cagayan Valley) and 3 (Central Luzon) and the Cordillera Administrative Region.
The biggest loss was in rice, with the damage in 16 provinces amounting to P3.78 billion. A total of 218,020 hectares of rice land, 11.72 percent of the land expected to be harvested in the last quarter, were affected.
?We are expecting the last quarter to be the bulk of the harvest this year,? Salacup told reporters.
As of Wednesday, the northern towns of Isabela remained without power along with provinces of Cagayan, Kalinga and Apayao whose power source was cut off when 12 transmission towers and one intermediate structure were felled by strong winds.
The National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) said the power supply in northern Luzon was expected to be fully restored by Wednesday next week.
The 80-km transmission of the 230-kilovolt Gamu-Tuguegarao line was damaged.
To quickly restore power supply in these provinces, NGCP is putting up temporary transmission lines and towers simultaneously.
Elsewhere in Isabela, the typhoon left a trail of devastation. Even the bustling town of Tumauini sustained heavy damage. Many houses and buildings were destroyed. Like in the three coastal towns, the scenery in Tumauini looked desolate.
Tuguegarao City also sustained noticeable damage. Leafless trees were all over the place. Electric posts lie on the ground. The Cagayan River is still swollen and murky.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo on Wednesday met with Isabela officials and inspected the damage.
Gazmin ordered the Philippine Air Force to send three Huey helicopters to ferry food, clothing and medicines for typhoon victims in Palanan, Maconacon and Divilacan.
In Zambales, the provincial board on Wednesday placed the province under a state of calamity.
Zambales Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. said the declaration was prompted by the extent of the damage in several towns and coastal villages in the province.
The declaration would allow the provincial government to use its calamity funds to help typhoon-hit communities.
?We did not expect this. My initial order [before the typhoon Juan hit] was to help Pangasinan folk if they were hit, but as the typhoon exited, winds began to pick up speed and the rains caused flooding,? he said.
The winds began picking up speed early dawn of Tuesday and continued throughout the day, causing power outages in the province due to toppled electrical posts.
Iba Mayor Ad Hebert Deloso said Allan de Guzman, 46, a seminarian from Quezon City, drowned on Tuesday night at a beach resort in the village of Bangantalinga in Iba.
Paterno Orduńa, the Pangasinan disaster council head, said some 60,000 people were evacuated in 104 villages in 22 towns and three cities in Pangasinan.
Dalisay Moya, a provincial agriculturist, said almost 20,000 ha of rice fields were under water. Pangasinan is the country?s third rice-producing province.
Cagayan agri, infra damage
In Cagayan, the provincial disaster council reported losses in rice and corn crops and fisheries worth P221 million.
Damage to roads and bridges was estimated at P12 million, the biggest of which was reported in Baggao town, said Edna Junio, council secretariat head.
The agriculture department placed the damage to high-value commercial crops in Luzon at P598.41 million and to corn at P312.29 million.
The provinces of Ifugao, Isabela, Cagayan, Apayao, Kalinga and Aurora were most affected by the corn loss.
The agriculture department said fisheries took a hit worth P47 million, including 4.7 million pieces of fingerlings and 350 metric tons of marketable fish. Livestock damage was at P29.6 million.
Of the 16 provinces hit by Juan, Pangasinan suffered the biggest loss in agriculture, estimated at P1.4 billion. Isabela came second with P898 million, followed by Nueva Ecija with P588 million.
Overall, 234,980 ha were affected in four regions.
Salacup noted a slight increase in the prices of vegetables, as the volume of delivery of the items in Luzon dwindled.
As the sky cleared on Wednesday, many farmers in Nueva Ecija rushed to their rice fields to harvest palay drenched by rains. They needed to harvest their crops as the grains? quality will deteriorate.
Serafin Santos, a provincial agriculturist, said 152,000 ha of 187,810 ha of palay had yet to be harvested.
As of Wednesday, the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) in Central Luzon said floods swamped eight villages in Aurora, one each in Malolos City in Bulacan and Carranglan in Nueva Ecija, 43 in Tarlac, 13 in Pampanga and four in Zambales.
Strong water flow on the Porac-Gumain River breached 15 m of an earth dike downstream of the Sta. Cruz bridge in Porac, Pampanga.
Water levels at various points of the Pampanga River rose on Wednesday as 30 river systems started to drain out to the Manila Bay, said Armand Taruc, officer in charge of the Pampanga River Basin Flood Forecasting System.
Water levels in three dams in Central Luzon remained below spilling level, the OCD said.
Roads still impassable
The Department of Public Works and Highways in the Cordillera said 41 landslides around the region rendered 24 roads impassable. These roads are in the towns of Tingalayan, Lubuagan, Balbalan, Pasil, Tanudan and Pinukpuk in Kalinga and Aguinaldo in Ifugao.
Five roads in Benguet were hit by landslides but sections of Kennon Road, a major route to and from Baguio City, were cleared at noon Wednesday.
The OCD said damage to agriculture in the region reached P783.805 million. Damage to roads, bridges, public buildings and irrigation systems in the Cordillera reached about P350 million.
?We prepared for the rains. What we didn?t expect was the wind. The wind was so strong that no leaves were left on the trees,? said Mayor Ruben Paoad of Tublay, Benguet.
He said his town lost at least P60 million in vegetables and cut flowers.
Foreign aid is coming to the Philippines.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has assured the Philippine government of ?additional disaster relief aid as needed? by typhoon victims.
?Our embassy in Manila has offered immediate disaster relief assistance (of $100,000), and we are working closely with Philippine authorities to offer additional assistance as needed,? Clinton said.
For his part, Sen. John Kerry, the US Senate foreign relations committee chair, said he was ?saddened to hear of the loss of life and damage wrought by the typhoon in the Philippines.? Reports from Gabriel Cardinoza, Villamor Visaya Jr., Yolanda Sotelo, Elmer Kristian Dauigoy, Frank Cimatu and Melvin Gascon, Inquirer Northern Luzon; and Robert Gonzaga, Tonette Orejas, Anselmo Roque, Armand Galang and Carmela Reyes-Estrope, Inquirer Central Luzon; and Dona Pazzibugan, Amy R. Remo and Jerry E. Esplanada in Manila