By Freddie Lazaro, Liezle Basa Iñigo, Mar Supnad, Erwin Beleo, and Niño Luces
SAN FERNANDO CITY, La Union — All hands are on deck as Northern Luzon braces to take a hit from the strongest typhoon to enter the country this year, so far, with preemptive evacuations implemented along coastal areas where up to six-meter high storm surges are expected when “Ompong” makes landfall early Saturday morning.
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) Spokesman Edgar Posadas said the estimate from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) is that typhoon Ompong will make landfall between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. Saturday in Cagayan or Isabela.
Tropical Cyclone Warning Signal No. 4 was already raised over some areas in Northern Luzon Friday night, including Cagayan, Northern Isabela, Apayao and Abra, where Ompong’s winds of more than 171 kilometers per hour is expected in the next 12 hours.
Zero casualty target
In Region 1, the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (RDRRMC1) is aiming for a “zero casualty” in the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Pangasinan, and La Union.
Director Melchito M. Castro, who chairs the RDRRMC1, ordered massive evacuations not just of residents in the coastal towns, but also those along mountain slopes vulnerable to landslides. They will be sheltered at newly-opened regional evacuation centers, such as the ones in Paoay, Ilocos Norte; Vigan City, Ilocos Sur: Bacnotan and Agoo, both in La Union; and in Calasiao, Pangasinan. The tally of evacuees as of 12 noon was 293 families or 1,113 individuals, said Castro.
Creeping storm surge
Disaster officials warned coastal communities of Cagayan and Isabela against a creeping storm surge in the middle of the night around the time typhoon Ompong hits land.
Speaking on CNN Philippines yesterday (Friday), University of the Philippines-Project NOAH’s Dr. Mahar Lagmay said storm surges as high as six meters is projected to accompany the onslaught of the big typhoon.
Drawing comparisons to typhoon Yolanda which packed sustained winds of 235 kph when it made landfall in Leyte in 2014, Lagmay said that while Ompong only has maximum sustained winds of 205 kph it is still very strong and likely to cause a storm surge.
Lagmay said storm surges occur along coastal areas just as the eye of the typhoon passes the area. “Storm surges happen very close to the eye of the typhoon. In this case, it may accompany the typhoon as Ompong hits Cagayan and Isabela, according to PAGASA,” he said.
Based on the typhoon bulletin of PAGASA, Ompong is expected to make landfall before dawn tomorrow, Saturday, in either Cagayan or Isabela.
Lagmay said this means that residents of coastal areas of the two provinces must brace for a storm surge in the middle of the night with a height that may reach six meters.
The coastal towns of Cagayan are Sta. Ana, Peñablanca, Baggao, Gonzaga, Lal-lo, Gattaran, Buguey, Aparri, Abulug, Pamplona, Sanchez-Mira, Claveria, and Sta. Praxedes.
In Isabela, the storm surge watch is up in the towns of Maconacon, Divilacan, Palanan, and Dinapigue.
Ready for worst
Ilagan City, Isabela – known as the “Corn Capital of the Philippines” – is preparing for the worst impact of Ompong on its golden agricultural produce.
City Information Officer Paul Bacungan said the typhoon is threatening to destroy 21,000 hectares of corn and also of rice, which could romp up the cost of damage to agriculture to P372 million.
“Threatened areas are 21,000 hectares, where 15,000 hectares of corn and 6,000 hectares on reproductive stage can be damaged. Farmers have yet to harvest their crops this month until October,” Bacungan told The Manila Bulletin.
The worst case scenario, he said, is that damage to corn will cost P178 million and damage to rice will reach P110 million for a total of P372 million in agricultural losses.
Meanwhile, relief goods have been prepositioned for 91 barangays. “Out of 91 barangays, 41 can possibly be isolated, so this move to preposition relief goods is necessary,” said Ilagan Mayor Evelyn Catolico-Diaz.
No power shutdown
The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) assured today that it will not schedule any power shutdown in Northern Luzon even as typhoon “Ompong” is set to roar through the area this weekend.
Citing the protocol in past typhoons, NGCP North Luzon Public Affairs Officer Lilibeth Gaydowen said there is no need to cut off power when the typhoon passes.
However, brownouts are possible in the event that electric poles are downed by strong winds, she said.
“May possibility na maapektuhan ang poles and towers ng NGCP (There’s a possibility that NGCP poles and towers are adversely affected), as experienced in past typhoons; pero not to intentionally shut off the lines,” Gaydowen said.
Meanwhile, some parts of Camarines Sur in the Bicol region already experienced loss of electricity yesterday.
Police Regional Office 1 (PRO1) and Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) personnel are securing the 2nd District of Ilocos Sur, which is prone to severe flooding.
Chief Supt. Romulo E. Sapitula, PRO1 director, maximized the possible deployment of personnel for Search and Rescue Operation while DPWH District Engineer Jose Ginete, Jr. said measures are already in place to address flooding in low-lying areas, particularly Santiago town.
PAGASA announced that three dams in Luzon, specifically Ambuklao, Binga, and Magat in the Cordilleras were releasing water as of 11 a.m., Friday.
A day earlier, Bulacan Gov. Wilhelmino M. Sy-Alvarado announced 160 cubic meters per second (cms) was being released from Angat and Bustos Dams in Bulacan.
As such, a general flood advisory has been issued by PAGASA to CAR, Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, CALABARZON, MIMAROPA, Bicol Region, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Visayas and in Zamboanga Peninsula as Ompong nears.
To ensure the safety of all residents of Pangasinan, Governor Amado “Pogi” I. Espino III directed all local government units (LGUs) to enforce preemptive evacuation of all those living near rivers and tributaries of dams.
Espino warned fisherfolk from venturing into sea and gave priority to get the most vulnerable sector – referring to the elderly, persons with disabilities, children and pregnant women – to be taken to safer and higher ground.
The same move was seen in San Fernando, La Union, where Mayor Hermenegildo Dong Gualberto raised a Code Red to have the preemptive evacuation of residents in high-risk areas during typhoons implemented.
“No one will be left behind; no one will ignored,” Mayor Gualberto said as he urged residents to leave their houses near the coast, in low-lying areas, and in landslide-prone communities.
In Albay, at least 760 families or around 3,800 individuals were forced to leave their residences threatened by flooding and lahar as Signal No. 1 was raised in the Bicol region ahead of Ompong’s onslaught.
Dr. Cedric Daep, Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (APSEMO) chief, said classes in all levels have been suspended and all necessary emergency and response measures are already in place.
As of Friday, the number of individuals projected to be affected by Ompong has increased to 5.4 million while 2,298 families or 9,107 persons were evacuated in Region 1 (Ilocos); Region 2 (Cagayan Valley); and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), the NDRRMC said.
Earlier, NDRRMC Executive Director and Office of Civil Defense (OCD) Administrator Ricardo Jalad said 800,000 residents in Northern Luzon are at high risk once typhoon Ompong roars across the area and should be preemptively evacuated.
Opposition solon Anakapawis Party-List Rep. Ariel Casilao, meanwhile, called on Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Manny Piñol to facilitate a price freeze on basic food products in typhoon threatened areas.
Casilao slammed Piñol for his alleged “insensitivity” toward the plight of consumers, following the DA Secretary’s warning that prices of basic goods would increase further due to the onslaught of Ompong.
For Casilao, the proper action would have been to facilitate a price freeze especially up north which is expected to be hard hit by the storm.
“Instead of simply warning of possible further price increases, the DA in coordination with the [Department of Trade and Industry] should order the freezing of prices in typhoon-hit areas in anticipation of the effect of Typhoon Ompong. This is to prevent unscrupulous traders from exploiting the situation,” noted Casilao, a member of the militant Makabayan Bloc in the House of Representatives.
Schools on standby
For its part, the Department of Education (DepEd) has started mobilizing preparedness of schools in anticipation of the possible effects of the typhoon in 11 regions.
As Ompong approaches the country, DepEd – through its Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Service (DRRMS) – is continuously coordinating with different agencies of the government for preparedness, monitoring, and response efforts.
Based on data gathered by DRRMS, Ompong is set to affect 76 school divisions, 19,704 schools, and 7,722,707 learners. The 11 affected regions are Regions I, II, III, IV-A, V, VI, VIII, X, Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), National Capital Region (NCR), CARAGA.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones, Undersecretary Alain Pascua, and DRRMS Dir. Ronilda Co joined President Duterte on September 13 to check the preparations and the monitoring of the typhoon at the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (NDRRM) Operations Center. (With reports from Freddie C. Velez, Martin A. Sadongdong, Ellson A. Quismorio, and Alexandria Dennise San Juan)