‘Ompong’ triggers mass evacuation
Massive evacuations of residents in the path of the most powerful storm so far this year started on Thursday in Cagayan province, where Typhoon “Ompong” (international name: Mangkhut) may make landfall on Saturday.
Some 10 million people in the Philippines are in the path of Ompong, which the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii categorized as a supertyphoon.
Typhoon warning signals have been hoisted in 38 provinces in Luzon, as well as in Metro Manila, as Ompong approaches.
Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said the movement of thousands of people out of risky coastal villages and island municipalities north of the province had begun and classes in all levels had been suspended.
Early evacuation initiated by local governments has also started in Ilocos, Cordillera Administrative Region and Central Luzon.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said local councils were bent on getting people to leave for safe grounds.
President Duterte has directed Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to go to their hometowns in Cagayan Valley to monitor the onslaught of the typhoon.
Secretary Raul L. Lambino has activated a 50-man quick-response team in Santa Ana, heartland of the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport.
Lambino, administrator and CEO of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, said backhoes, bulldozers, ambulances and dump trucks had been readied for evacuation and rescue operations.
Ompong was tracked as of 4 p.m. on Thursday 575 kilometers east-northeast of Virac, Catanduanes province, packing maximum sustained winds of 205 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 255 kph.
The typhoon was moving west-northwest at a speed of 25 kph.
“The projected track has been adjusted slightly south, and it is now expected to make landfall between Cagayan and Isabela provinces,” said weather specialist Loriedin de la Cruz.
“Nonetheless, the areas to be affected are essentially unchanged due to its relatively large 900-km diameter,” she added.
More than 4 million people in Cagayan and Isabela and outlying provinces were vulnerable to the most destructive effects near the typhoon’s 125-km-wide eye, according to Office of Civil Defense chief Ricardo Jalad.
Nearly 48,000 houses in those high-risk areas are made of light materials and vulnerable to Ompong’s ferocious winds.
Classes, work suspended
Provinces in Luzon, as well as certain areas in the Visayas and Mindanao, have suspended classes or work, or both.
Most cities in Metro Manila suspended classes on Friday.
In Batanes, the provincial government called off classes and work to give residents time to prepare for the worst.
There will be no work and classes on Thursday and Friday in other provinces—Cagayan, Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela, Kalinga, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur and Pangasinan—which are in danger of being lashed by Ompong’s winds.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development has readied P1.7 billion worth of food packs and other relief goods, according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.
Better prepared than sorry
Malacañang said it had prepared land, air and sea equipment for the deployment of relief supplies and additional rescue teams to areas in the typhoon’s direct path.
“Better be prepared than sorry,” Roque said.
In the island town of Itbayat in Batanes, residents woke up early Thursday to tie down their roofs with “pospos,” a sturdy strip of plastic rope.
The thatch roofs of traditional Ivatan stone houses were strapped with the rope while windows and doors were strengthened with bolts and wood.
In northern Luzon’s agricultural areas, such as Pangasinan, farmers kept on harvesting crops and palay (unhusked rice), including those not fully matured.
Most rice plants in Pangasinan, the country’s third-largest rice-producing province, were still in the tillering stage and could survive new floods, according to Nestor Batalla, assistant provincial agriculturist.
Classes in Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Catanduanes and a town in Masbate were suspended on Thursday.
Although the Visayas is not in the direct path of Ompong, several local governments issued orders suspending classes in all levels.
In Tacloban City, Mayor Cristina Romualdez issued an executive order on Wednesday night suspending classes on Thursday as a “precautionary” measure. Leyte Gov. Leopoldo Dominico Petilla issued a similar order.
Classes were also suspended in Biliran, Southern Leyte and Northern Samar provinces.
The Coast Guard has imposed a no-sailing policy effective Wednesday.
In Iloilo province, classes were suspended in the town of Miagao, Lambunao and Janiuay in anticipation of heavy rains.
In Tagbilaran City, Bohol province, tourists hurried to go home to avoid being stranded.
Kwai Wang and her friends went early on Thursday to the port to catch the 11 a.m. trip to Cebu City.
Wang, 32, and her friends were in Panglao for a three-day vacation but their return to Cebu was greeted with news that Ompong was to hit the country.
“We [are] in a hurry to return to Cebu [because] we don’t want to be stranded,” she said.
Eight schools in Cagayan de Oro City suspended classes from elementary to high school levels.
In Misamis Oriental province, classes in day care and elementary levels were suspended in five towns at 1 p.m. on Thursday because of intermittent heavy rains.
Davao del Norte contingents for Batang Pinoy (Philippine Youth Games) decided against attending sports event in Baguio City because of Ompong. —REPORTS FROM GABRIEL CARDINOZA, VILLAMOR VISAYA JR., TONETTE OREJAS, NATHAN ALCANTARA, MELVIN GASCON, JULIE M. AURELIO, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, REY ANTHONY OSTRIA, MAR S. ARGUELLES, MA. APRIL MIER, JOEY A. GABIETA, LEO UDTOHAN, NESTOR P. BURGOS JR., DIVINA SUSON, BONG S. SARMIENTO, MART SAMBALUD AND AP
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