By Alexandria San Juan and Myrna Velasco
Monster typhoon “Ompong,” which swept through Northern Luzon with ferocious winds and torrential rains early Saturday morning, was expected to leave the Philippine area of responsibility (PAR) last night after knocking out power and communications, setting off landslides, and whipping up the seas in the agriculture region.
Ompong continues to weaken as it veers away from the country.
With the weather easing, officials warned there was lingering danger.
“It’s still a life and death situation,” Defense Secretary DelfinLorenzana said by phone, citing past drownings in swollen rivers in mountain provinces after storms have passed.
Department of Science and Technology Undersecretary for Risk Reduction and Climate Change Dr. Renato Solidum told the public to stand guard as hazards are still in place while Ompong veers away from the country.
“Ang ating mga panganib dahil sa bagyong Ompong kahit ito ay papalayo na at nakalagpas na ng kalupaan ay patuloy pa rin. Nandyan pa rin ang panganib ng habagat na dapat patuloy nating paghandaan (Lingering danger remains although Ompong continues to veer away from the country. There is the threat of habagat),” he said.
At least three people died and six were reported missing during Ompong onslaught. Two of the fatalities were responders trying to rescue people trapped in two landslides in Itogon, Benguet, while one drown in a river in Pasig City.
The minimal number of casualties so far may be attributed to preparations ahead of the landfall.
Authorities said they are better prepared than in 2013, when super-typhoon “Yolanda” devastated the Visayas and killed 6,300 people.
Saving lives was paramount and it was too soon to know the extent of Ompong’s devastation, said Secretary Francis Tolentino, an adviser to President Duterte and disaster response coordinator.
However, no report of the extent of damage was immediately available as disaster officials are still completing assessment in the agriculture region, where a massive evacuation from high-risk areas was carried out over two days.
But the ferocity of Ompong, which has a diameter of about 900 km and had maximum gust of 330 kilometers per hour at its peak at 4 a.m. Saturday, is likely to have caused widespread damage to infrastructure and agriculture.
“Almost all of the buildings here have been damaged, the roofs were blown away,” Cagayan provincial information officer Rogelio Sending said. “There has been no electricity supply … communications were also down.
“We’ve received reports that many trees were uprooted and electric posts toppled and are blocking the roads. This makes the clearing operations really difficult.”
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said Ompong made landfall at 1:40 a.m. Saturday in Baggao, Cagayan, before moving west and away from land.
In the 5 p.m. weather update, PAGASA weather specialist Ariel Rojas said the eye of Ompong is now located 160 kilometers west northwest of Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, and now moving west northwest at 25 kilometers per hour.
It continues to weaken and is now packing maximum sustained windsof 160 kph and gustiness of up to 196 kph.
Rojas said Ompongwas expected to exit PAR between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday while heading toward China where it can possibly make its second landfall.
In a press briefing Saturday morning, PAGASA Assistant Weather Services Chief RenitoPaciente said that even if Ompong is already outside PAR, we cannot still immediately feel fairer weather as it will continue to bring rains and winds on the western area of the country.
“It is possible that Ompong may still pour rains over the western part of Luzon while moving westward away from the land. As it moves farther from the country, its effect will continue to weaken,”Paciente said.
Paciente advised the public to be alert on possible hazards that Ompong may bring such as flashfloods, and landslides.
Chances of possible storm surges along coastal areas are now slim but PAGASA still advised fisherfolk and those with small seacraft not to venture out over the seaboards of areas with storm warning signals as well on the seaboards of Luzon and of Visayas.
“Good weather can be felt, possibly on Sunday evening or starting Monday morning,”Paciente added.
As of 5 p.m. Saturday, signal No. 3 is still up over Cagayan including the Babuyan Group of Islands, Batanes, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, La Union, Mountain Province, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, Apayao, and Abra wherein winds of greater than 121 to 170 kilometers per hour is expected in at least 18 hours.
Areas under signal No. 2 are Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Pangasinan, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Aurora, Zambales, Quirino, Pampanga, and Bulacan.
Meanwhile, signal No. 1 is up over Metro Manila as well as in the provinces of Bataan, Rizal, Cavite, Batangas, Laguna, Lubang Island, Northern Quezon including Polillo Island.
The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) said some of its transmission lines that were damaged have already been partly restored although the significant chunk will still have to go through repair and power restoration processes.
NGCP Assistant Vice President for System Operations Raul Seludo said the areas that are still suffering from total blackout around mid-day Saturday include those in Cagayan, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra, KalingaApayao, Mountain Province, and Nueva Vizcaya.
He added the affected areas with partly restored electricity service were: La Union, 17 percent; Benguet, 10 percent; Isabela, 11 percent; Pangasinan, 15 percent; and Zambales, 90 percent.
Gildo Listano, NGCP VP for Operations and Maintenance, said they cannot give a complete commitment on when power may be fully restored in the typhoon-battered as assessment of damage on transmission facilities continues.
“We want electricity service restoration done as early as possible, but we are still completing our damage assessment. In fact, we have our personnel that had been following the typhoon’s track – complete with communications equipment, so we can assess how to go about power restoration,” he stressed.
In Pangasinan, 13 towns are affected by the power outage. These are Bolinao, Bugallon, Aguilar, Binmaley, Agno, San Fabian, Lingayen, Mangatarem, Alcala, Sison, Asingan, Binalonan, and Balungao.
Metro power interruptions
In Metro Manila alone, the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) listed said that as of 8 a.m. Saturday, 430,000 electricity consumers suffered power interruptions “due to the effects of typhoon Ompong.” That number had been cut down to 62,000 as of 2 p.m. Saturday and full restoration was expected within the day.
Meralco spokesman Joe Zaldarriaga said a large swath of Metro Manila’s electricity services were affected with the typhoon’s powerful rush.
He said some of the areas affected “are inaccessible due to strong winds and floods,” hence, restoration efforts in these domains may take a bit longer.
Zaldarriaga nevertheless assured the public that it will be working round the clock to bring back electricity service, while also ensuring the safety of its dispatched crew in these affected areas. (With reports from Liezle Basa, Reuters, and Aaron Recuenco)