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Half a million evacuated: Typhoon weakens

Ricky Bautista and Helen Flores - The Philippine Star

CATBALOGAN CITY, Philippines – Families were forcibly evacuated from danger zones in Samar yesterday as threats of storm surges and destructive winds remained despite the slight weakening of Typhoon Ruby, which is expected to make landfall tonight.

 

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said at least half a million people have been evacuated from critical areas.

Several flights were cancelled and Iloilo City declared a “state of imminent danger.” Relief agencies readied sacks of rice.

Weather forecasters in Manila said a surge of cold winds from Siberia slightly weakened Typhoon Ruby (international name Hagupit) yesterday but warned it could still bring destruction and storm surges up to four meters high, particularly in Eastern Visayas, where it is expected to make landfall.

As of 5 p.m. yesterday, the typhoon was roaring toward the country with winds of 195 kilometers per hour – weaker than its peak of 215 kph – and gusts of 230 kph from the previous 250 kph.

Weather forecasters warned that such speeds still made Ruby a powerful typhoon.

In Samar, Gov. Sharee Ann Tan said residents had to be forcibly evacuated to ensure everyone’s safety.

“Stay calm, cautious and prepared,” Tan said, addressing her constituents and officials at yesterday’s meeting of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. The province has two cities and 24 towns.

Provincial officials said they were coordinating with rescue and communication groups, security agencies, and line agencies in the enforcement of evacuations and in preparation of food supplies.

In the cities of Catbalogan and Calbayog, schools, churches and big establishments have been readied as possible evacuation sites.

Catbalogan Mayor Stephany Uy-Tan established hotlines and provided a list of evacuation centers on her Facebook pages and on the city’s official website.

“Food packs and medicines had already been put in place,” Uy-Tan said.

“We are also ready for the typhoon. We have close coordination with barangay officials and concerned agencies with our action plans,” Calbayog Mayor Ronaldo Aquino said.

The offices of Mayors Aquino and Uy-Tan have been designated command centers for the round-the-clock relief – and possibly rescue operations.

The seaports in both cities have also been cleared of vessels to prevent the latter from being carried ashore by strong waves. Storm surge triggered by Yolanda last year forced several kilometers inland at least one ocean going vessel in Tacloban City.

Basey in Samar was almost deserted with business establishments emptied of their stocks by panic buyers and by storeowners wary of looters, Mayor Igmedio Ponferrada said.

Ponferrada said occupants of bunkhouses in Barangay Canmanila had trebled from 400 families to 1,200 households. 

“We have to find another evacuation site as it will be not safe for them to stay in that temporary shelters made only of light materials,” the mayor said.

Ponferrada said the town of Basey, inundated by 10-15 meter storm surge last year, is now ready for another flooding. The town has secured documents, vehicles, computers and other equipment, to protect them from water damage.

“At least today, we were able to prepare and had the time to inform our constituents to get ready,” the mayor said.

The Iloilo City council, for its part, declared a “state of imminent danger.” This means the city government may immediately release funds for relief and rescue activities.

 

Half a million evacuees

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said the evacuees represent 100,000 families in critical areas, especially Western Samar. She said the figure is equivalent to around 500,000 individuals.

“As of the initial count given by the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government), the ones helping us coordinate with local governments, more than 100,000 families are now in evacuation centers,” Soliman told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo.

“The people themselves are preparing and they do not need to be convinced to go to evacuation centers,” Soliman said.

National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) executive director Alexander Pama said local governments and civilians are now following the instructions given by DILG.

Ponferrada said the regional office of the DSWD delivered 250 sacks of rice to Basey Thursday night.

He said evacuees were staying at the Basey 1 Elementary School, St. Michael Parish Church, Barangay Buscada Chapel and Multipurpose Hall. Some even sought shelter in the Rawis and Sohoton caves.

Members of the Public Assistance for Rescue Disaster and Support Services Foundation International, a volunteer non-government organization, are assisting officials implement an orderly evacuation in Catbalogan and Basey and in Palo and Tacloban in Leyte.

The Samar Electric Cooperative II (SAMELCO II) said it would cut off power as soon as Ruby makes landfall.

The Department of Public Works and Highways has also cleared roads and highways of objects that might get blown away or carried by flood or strong wind.

There are at least 27 major evacuation centers designated in Eastern Samar, said disaster official Levi Nicart.

“Our priorities are those living in coastal towns and no-build zones,” he said.

In Tacloban, where more than 3,000 families are still living in tents and temporary shelters, major evacuation centers especially the Astrodome and Our Mother of Perpetual Help, are almost fully occupied.

Aside from forced evacuation, Mayor Alfred Romualdez also imposed a “liquor ban” in the city. The downtown area as well as the city hall compound had been cleared of vehicles.

The Army’s 8th Infantry Division based in Catbalogan also placed all its units on “full red alert” as part of disaster preparations.

“The primary objective here is ‘zero-casualty.’ Along with other agencies, your army here in the region will exhaust all means to save lives and properties particularly in the areas that will be worst-hit by the typhoon,” Maj. Gen. Jet Velarmino, commander of the 8ID told The STAR.

 

Zero casualty

Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon said he has directed all PRC chapters nationwide to be prepared to implement protocols to ensure zero casualty.

“Our objective is zero loss of life and minimum damage to property is achieved,” Gordon stressed.

Gwendolyn Pang, PRC secretary general said Red Cross chapters in the typhoon’s path were directed to ensure that all logistical supplies are adequate.

“The flow of information must be continuous so that we will know what is happening on the ground. We have to know the damage of typhoon Ruby and if we can intervene,” Pang said.

Albay province, meanwhile, would also be evacuating starting today at least 128,000 families to elevated ground due to potential flooding and storm surge, Gov. Joey Salceda announced yesterday.

“We will evacuate all the residents residing along the Albay coastlines to get them out of the danger to be brought by the anticipated storm surge,” Salceda told The STAR.

Salceda said that some 37,000 residents would also be evacuated due to lahar and mudflow threats from Mayon Volcano.

The National Food Authority (NFA), for its part, has positioned 50,000 50-kilogram bags of rice for emergency use, food security chief Francis Pangilinan announced yesterday.

Pangilinan said the country’s rice buffer stock remains sufficient for 17 days.

Some 44,000 50-kilogram bags of NFA rice are now on standby for allocation to Region 8, Eastern Visayas. “Rolling stores are ready to be deployed post calamity, if needed,” he said.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board suspended the operations of all provincial bus companies with roll-on, roll-off (RORO) routes to areas affected by Ruby. The suspension of travel left more than 2,500 stranded at different ports yesterday, according to the Philippine Coast Guard.

 

Flights cancelled, free calls

Meanwhile, Cebu Pacific announced the cancellation of flights today between Manila, Cebu, Butuan and Tacloban.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appealed yesterday to the Philippine Airlines to resume full operations in Tacloban so that those still wanting to leave for Manila can do so at the earliest time possible.

Globe Telecom, for its part, announced it is providing critical municipalities with mobile phones and prepaid load which they can use to offer Libreng Tawag service to affected residents for at least a week.

Globe has portable generator sets on standby to be deployed to affected areas in case of power interruption.  

“We want to be ready for any eventuality. We are empowering the local government units concerned to conduct Libreng Tawag service if the need arises,” said Fernando Esguerra, director, Globe Corporate Social Responsibility. “We are equipping them with emergency communication facilities so that they can do this while our security personnel are focused on ensuring that Globe employees and our systems are safe and intact.”

SkyCable advised subscribers in critical areas of possible signal interruption due to effects of Ruby.

“SKY commits to the immediate restoration of its cable TV and broadband services once the weather calms, the roads become passable, and power is restored to heavily affected areas,” a company statement read.

 

Weaker

The typhoon was forecast to move west-northwest at 13 kph in the next 24 hours.

“This is still powerful. We should not let our guard down and remain alert. Let’s keep ourselves safe because the threat of strong winds, heavy rains and storm surge remains,” PAGASA deputy administrator Landrico Dalida Jr. said in Filipino during a press briefing. “Evacuation of high risk areas should not stop,” he said.

PAGASA acting administrator Vicente Malano and weather forecaster Chris Perez said areas, which are close to the center of the typhoon, could experience heavy rains and storm surge of three to four meters or about the height of a one-story building.

As of 5 p.m. yesterday, storm warning signal No. 2 was raised over Albay, Sorsogon, Ticao Island, Masbate, Northern Samar, Eastern Samar, Samar, Biliran, Leyte, Southern Leyte, Northern Cebu including Cebu City, Bantayan Island and Camotes Island.

Areas under signal No. 2 may experience winds of 61 to 100 kph in at least 24 hours.

Perez said winds of such strength could uproot large trees and blow away or flatten structures made of light materials like nipa huts.

“These areas may suffer severe damage in agriculture,” Perez said.

Areas under signal No. 1, which include Catanduanes, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Burias Island, Romblon, Capiz, Iloilo, Antique, Guimaras, Aklan, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, rest of Cebu, Siquijor, Bohol, Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Norte, Dinagat Island, Siargao Island, Agusan del Sur and Camiguin Island, may experience 30 to 60 kph wind in at least 36 hours.

PAGASA said areas under signal No. 1 can expect occasional rains with gusty winds.

Ruby is expected to be at 80 km north northeast of Borongan, Eastern Samar or 130 km east southeast of Catarman, Northern Samar this afternoon.

It would be at 40 km north of Masbate City, Masbate or in the vicinity of Ticao Island by tomorrow afternoon.

By Monday afternoon, the center of Ruby is expected to be at 50 km west of Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro.

Perez said Metro Manila and other parts of Southern Luzon could experience light to moderate rains beginning Sunday.

It is expected to exit the Philippine area of responsibility on Wednesday morning or afternoon.

 

Siberian winds

State weather forecasters attributed Ruby’s weakening to the sudden surge of the northeast monsoon – cold winds coming down from Siberia.

Malano said the cold wind “intruded” into the cyclone’s center, preventing it from further intensifying.

“We expect that in the next 24 hours, the cold winds will continue to affect Ruby. If there is no moisture, which is the food of a typhoon, it is expected to further weaken,” Malano said.

“I think the Filipinos’ prayers are powerful,” he said.

The Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center downgraded Ruby’s category from a super typhoon to a typhoon.

The weather bureau also reduced the projected diameter of the typhoon from 700 km to 600 km, which means that fewer areas would be covered by its mass.

PAGASA said the typhoon could bring heavy to intense rains in areas within a 600-km radius.

PAGASA said rough to very rough sea conditions are expected in the seaboards of Northern Luzon, eastern seaboard of Central and Southern Luzon, seaboards of Visayas and over the northern and eastern seaboards of Mindanao due to the combined effect of Ruby and the northeast monsoon. With Alexis Romero, Mayen Jaymalin, Czeriza Valencia, Cet Dematera, Jaime Laude, Danny Dangcalan, Evelyn Macairan, Jennifer Rendon, Reinir Padua, Christina Mendez

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