World: Typhoon hits Philippines, bringing heavy rains and stirring painful memories

Typhoon hits Philippines, bringing heavy rains and stirring painful memories

MANILA, Philippines — A powerful typhoon slammed the northern Philippines early Saturday, bringing high winds and torrential rains and evoking memories of Typhoon Haiyan, which ravaged the center of the country in 2013 and killed more than 6,000 people.

Flooding, torn roofs and power outages were reported as Typhoon Mangkhut, which had been the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, made landfall on the nation’s largest island, Luzon, at 1:40 a.m. local time.

A New York Times reporter in northern Luzon described debris as big as a roof flying past her car.

The maximum sustained wind speed of the typhoon slowed to about 120 mph as it reached Luzon’s shores, the national weather service of the Philippines reported, but the storm maintained its power to destroy, with gusts reaching as high as 200 mph.

By morning, there were no reports of casualties or major damage, but some communities were cut off by power and communication outages. Teams were preparing to visit the worst-hit areas and assess the damage over the next few days.

Across northern Luzon, many thousands of people evacuated their homes and stockpiled emergency supplies in frantic preparation for the possibility of a major disaster. More than 110 airline flights were canceled, officials said, including 40 international flights.

The governor of hard-hit Cagayan province, Manuel Mamba, told DZBB Radio that nearly 10,000 people, mainly from coastal areas, sought shelter in evacuation centers set up before the typhoon reached land.

“We have received no reports of casualties yet,” he said, “and we think that the pre-emptive evacuation had helped.”

The storm was expected to exit Luzon by midday Saturday, with a reduced wind speed of 115 mph, according to the Philippine weather service.

Matthew McGarry, head of Catholic Relief Services in the Philippines, said the path of the storm and government preparations may have prevented the kind of disaster caused by Typhoon Haiyan five years ago.

“The storm itself was not as strong and the topography where it made landfall is quite a bit different,” he said. “Communications are still a major challenge and information is just starting to trickle out, so it’s way too soon to speculate on casualties, damage to homes or loss of livelihoods.”

McGarry said relief organizations also were better prepared for this typhoon. “I think we’re a good deal more organized and prepared,” he said, “and the logistical challenges so far look to be much less daunting.”

Along the coast of Ilocos Norte province, rice fields were flooded and many trees were downed. Signboards, metal roofing and gates were torn loose and flew through the air. Roads were deserted, save for occasional emergency vehicles.

In the town of San Nicolas, streets were flooded and some buildings suffered damage but most structures remained intact. With the power out, people stood outside in ponchos watching the wind and rain whip past.

The storm hit a less densely populated, less vulnerable area than the one plundered by Typhoon Haiyan in 2003. Still, government officials, hoping to avoid anything like that storm’s devastation, pleaded with vulnerable residents to move to shelters before the storm, fearing drenching rains and devastating mudslides along the island’s mountainous coastlines.

Luzon is the Philippines’ most populous island, but the northern tip is largely agricultural and is known as the country’s breadbasket. More than 4 million people live in the area.

Officials warned of severe flooding and extremely high winds, with rainfall of as much as 6 to 10 inches in certain areas. Mindful of the chaos that followed Haiyan, the government deployed emergency teams, communications systems and supplies, including food and water, to the threatened area.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines called on churches throughout the predominantly Catholic country to recite a prayer for deliverance from calamities.

Storm surges as high as 20 feet were expected, and officials warned fishermen and owners of small boats against taking out their craft.

Manila to the south was hit by heavy rain and strong winds, with flooding of roads in some areas, including Roxas Boulevard, a major artery that runs along Manila Bay.

When it reached land, the storm first hit the Sierra Madre, a Luzon mountain range known as a “typhoon barrier” because it has helped protect northern Luzon in the past. From there, the storm moved into the Cagayan Valley, where it threatened one of the country’s largest agricultural regions and a major producer of rice, corn and vegetables.

Heavy flooding or other damage could cripple the country’s food supply. The Philippines’ benchmark stock index was the worst performer in Asia on Friday, as investors feared the storm would exacerbate inflationary pressures in the country.

From Cagayan Valley, the typhoon, known as Ompong in the Philippines, headed over the Cordillera mountains, an even wider and taller range with one peak of more than 9,500 feet, and Laoag City, with about 100,000 people, in Ilocos Norte province.

All told, it traversed a distance of roughly 120 miles over Luzon. From the Philippines, it is projected to continue on toward Hong Kong, southern China and northern Vietnam.

Thousands of Filipinos fortified their homes, placing wood over the windows and stockpiling food, water and medical supplies. Aid groups such as Oxfam and Save the Children Philippines, which both have experience in Philippine disaster relief efforts, were preparing to provide assistance.

Rhona Daoang, a spokeswoman for the Ilocos Norte provincial government, said it was taking measures to prevent widespread loss of life.

Officials distributed rice and drinking water to residents before the storm and encouraged them to fortify their homes or evacuate. The province expected about 5,000 people to take refuge in shelters.

Ilocos Norte also set up eight shelters for cows, goats and other livestock so farmers would not have to face the choice of leaving them behind or staying and jeopardizing their own safety.

The governor of the province, Imee R. Marcos, temporarily outlawed drinking while the typhoon threat loomed. During a heavy storm last month, one man who was drunk drowned.

“The governor also declared a liquor ban so that we could minimize the casualties,” Daoang said. “Some don’t like it, but some agree.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Richard C. Paddock © 2018 The New York Times

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