MANILA, Philippines - Remember typhoon “Sendong,” which left nearly 1,300 people dead in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities in mid-December last year?
An even more powerful cyclone is roaring toward Mindanao, triggering warnings for what forecasters said could be the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said typhoon “Pablo” was forecast to be stronger than Sendong.
Pablo (international name “Bopha”) entered the Philippine area of responsibility last night, PAGASA said.
State weather forecasters said Pablo will bring torrential rains and strong winds in many parts of the country, particularly in the Visayas and Mindanao, beginning tomorrow.
PAGASA weather division chief Robert Sawi said the storm was forecast to move closer to Northern Mindanao tomorrow morning. It is expected to make landfall in Surigao del Norte or Surigao del Sur before noon Tuesday.
“Good weather is still expected for the whole country on Monday. On Tuesday, the effects of Pablo will be gradually felt over the eastern section of Mindanao,” Sawi said in a press briefing.
He said heavy rain is expected over Surigao, Compostela Valley, Davao and the rest of Mindanao tomorrow morning, and over Northern Mindanao by nighttime.
By Wednesday, the typhoon is expected to cross Panay Island and move toward the Mindoro-Palawan area.
“By Thursday evening, Pablo will be over Palawan and will start to bring light to moderate rain over Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon,” Sawi said.
Pablo was categorized by US meteorologists as a super typhoon.
As of 4 p. m. yesterday, the eye of the typhoon was spotted 970 kilometers southeast of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur with maximum sustained winds of 185 kilometers per hour near the center and gustiness of up to 220 kph. It was forecast to move west-northwest at 22 kph.
This morning, it is forecast to be at 660 km east of Hinatuan, and by tomorrow at 140 km east northeast of Hinatuan or 230 km east-southeast of Surigao City.
By Wednesday morning the weather disturbance is expected to be at 60 km north of Dumaguete City. It was predicted to bring 20 to 30 millimeters of rain (heavy to intense) in areas within its 700-km radius.
Landslide, storm surge alerts up
Benito Ramos, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), advised fishermen in the eastern section of the country, particularly in Surigao del Sur and Surigao del Norte, not to venture to sea.
He warned residents in coastal areas against storm surges and workers of small-scale mining companies in Mt. Diwalwal, Compostela Valley against possible landslides.
The NDRRMC also ordered its field units to undertake precautionary measures.
“This is a powerful storm, perhaps the strongest this year, and we enjoin everyone to take precautionary measures,” Ramos said.
He said the local governments would determine whether to undertake preemptive evacuation in their respective areas. He advised residents to cooperate with local authorities to minimize casualties.
Police, Coast Guard, Navy brace for Pablo
The Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Navy have alerted their men and placed on standby their assets and disaster response units in preparation for the impact of the super typhoon.
PNP chief Director General Nicanor Bartolome has placed all police units on alert and activated the police desk at the NDRRMC to ensure immediate coordination among PNP units and the national headquarters for easy augmenting of forces and assistance.
PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo Jr. said all PNP resources, particularly manpower, and special rescue equipment are put on standby for deployment in areas expected to be hit by the typhoon.
Cerbo said the PNP is also preparing rubber boats for evacuation efforts and communication among the units has been boosted for effective dissemination of information.
If the rubber boats deployed in local police units would not be enough, Cerbo said the PNP might be forced to use the ones that were part of the evidence in the investigation into the questionable procurement of equipment by the previous administration.
He said the public could directly seek help from the PNP through Patrol 117 or by sending text messages to 09178475757 and text 2920.
PCG chief Rear Admiral Luis Tuason said his men are ready to respond to search and rescue operations in all hard-hit areas and warned small seagoing vessels against sailing.
“We are ready to conduct rescue operations in flooded areas. Let us warn operators of small vessels, motor bancas, and fishing boats to avoid sailing in the southeastern and eastern section of the country where sea is rough,” PCG spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said.
He said in all parts of the country, passengers of seagoing vessels with open deck, and fishing boat workers were advised to wear lifejackets and not to carry excess passengers.
Navy spokesman Col. Omar Tonsay said a standby alert covering naval units located along the expected path of the typhoon took effect starting at 8 a.m. yesterday.
The Navy has 40 ships and 27 naval teams ready to conduct rescue and relief operations.
On standby were two disaster response units and five ships from the Albay-based Naval Forces Southern Luzon; two teams and three ships from Naval Forces Northern Luzon in La Union; three units and 11 ships from the Palawan-based Naval Forces West; five disaster response teams and eight ships from the Naval Forces Central in Cebu; two units and 10 ships from Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao based in Davao City; two teams and three ships from the Zamboanga-based Naval Forces Western Mindanao; and 11 response teams from the Fleet Marine Ready Force in Sangley Point, Cavite.
Bicol OCD forms Task Force Pablo
The Office of Civil Defense (OCD) in Legazpi City, Albay formed yesterday Task Force Pablo as part of its preparations for the onslaught of the super typhoon.
The task force is composed of 600-man joint rescue teams from the Philippine Army, Navy, Air Force, PNP, and the Bureau of Fire Protection.
OCD regional director Raffy Alejandro has placed all disaster risk reduction and management councils in Bicol under heightened alert status since Saturday.
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda has also placed the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council on red alert status.
“Our preparation is consonant with the order of President Aquino to prepare all government assets three days before a typhoon enters the country’s area of responsibility,” said Salceda.
He said they are ready to evacuate some 350,000 people in the province’s 15 towns and three cities when the need arises.
“We really have to put everything on cue so that our response teams will not be caught flat-footed in case Pablo will change course and threaten Albay,” he said in yesterday’s press briefing.
He urged the residents to continue praying the “Oratio Imperata” so the country would be spared from the wrath of Pablo.
Cedric Daep, chief of Albay’s Public Safety and Emergency Management Office, said their preparation had been applied in the past when similar super typhoons battered the province.
“We did this before in the cases of ‘Loleng’ in 1998, and ‘Milenyo’ and ‘Reming’ in 2006,” Daep told The STAR. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Alexis Romero, Cet Dematera, Celso Amo