600,000 flee Ruby

Heavy rains and strong winds began to hit the eastern Philippines on Saturday ahead of a giant storm threatening more devastation to areas yet to recover from a super typhoon that killed thousands.

Typhoon Ruby (international name Hagupit) was moving slowly in the Pacific Ocean towards the Philippines and is expected to make landfall before dawn on Sunday, weather experts said.

LET’S GET OUT OF HERE, BABY. Relief workers raced against the clock to
take people, including this baby, out of harm’s way in Legazpi City
More than 600,000 people in coastal areas were in evacuation centres according to the government, and many others were expected to pour in amid warnings of house-destroying winds, giant storm surges and landslides.

In other developments:

• Classes in all levels might be suspended once super typhoon Ruby hits the National Capital Region on Monday or Tuesday, according to Chairman Francis Tolentino of the Metro Manila Development Authority.

Local officials agreed with the national government to use a number of public schools in their areas as evacuation centers for residents who would be affected by storm surge,  floods, and landslides caused by heavy rains and strong winds brought by Ruby.

• The Armed Forces of the Philippines said they it would provide the “muscle” in its disaster response operations, and will deploy ground troops in all critical areas that will be hit by typhoon Ruby’s fury.

AFP chief of Staff, Gen. Gregorio Catapang said he had directed all unified Commands in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao  for pre-positioning of troops,  equipment, core of engineers, and medical doctors to cope up with possible damages to lives and properties.

“We will provide the muscle to assist people affected by typhoon Ruby through the delivery of needed items and to render humanitarian efforts to the badly affected areas,” Catapang said.

• In Tacloban City—the police  have    declared full alert status in the whole of Eastern visayas, prepositioning 1, 1 48 personnel for deployment and identified a total of 547 evacuation centers in the region.

Government employees in Manila rushed to organize
emergency medical kits and other logistical needs, like boats, just
hours before Typhoon Ruby was to hit land on Saturday.
Hagupit was forecast to hit remote fishing communities on the far eastern island of Samar first, then cut across mostly poor farming central regions, and possibly the densely populated National |Capital Region.

Many communities in the central Philippines are still battling to recover from Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the most powerful storm ever recorded on land, which left more than 7,350 people dead or missing in November last year.

In Tacloban, one of the cities worst-hit by Haiyan’s monster winds and tsunami-like storm surges, thousands of people on Saturday crammed into schools, churches and other evacuation centres.

In Catbalogan, the capital of neighbouring Samar island forecast to be the first place hit by the storm, authorities were preparing for water surges more than one storey high.

More than 10,000 people had been ordered into safe buildings, according to mayor Stephany Uy-Tan.

“We don’t want people to panic but I ordered forced evacuations so they would be safe,” the mayor said.

“There are always some people who say the wind is not yet that strong, that there is still no rain... we just have to explain that there is a huge possibility of a storm surge.”

In the eastern region of Bicol alone, authorities said they were aiming for 2.5 million people—half the local population—to be in evacuation centres by Saturday night.

On Saturday morning, Ruby was about 180 kilometres (110 miles) east of Samar island, according to local weather agency Pagasa.

Its rains and winds could impact 50 million people, or half the nation’s population, according to Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman.

The typhoon was generating sustained winds of 185 kilometres an hour and gusts of 220 kilometres an hour which, if maintained at landfall, would make it the strongest to hit the Philippines this year.

The Philippines endures about 20 major storms a year which, along with regular earthquakes and volcano eruptions, make it one of the world’s most disaster-plagued countries.

The storms regularly claim many lives but they are becoming more violent and unpredictable because of climate change, according to the United Nations and many scientists.

Meanwhile, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources reported that 14 barangays in Metro Manila and houses built with light materials are highly susceptible to landslides and may be affected by strong winds while 820 barangays might be submerged by the expected heavy downpour.

MMDA’s Tolentino reminded Metro Manila residents to be “ready.”

“Be ready, this was the directive of President Aquino. Everyone should prepare for the worst-case scenario, although there is a possibility that Metro Manila will just be under Signal No. 2,” he said.

Local disaster officials also agreed to roll down billboards, trim large trees close to power lines and dwellings, and temporarily remove holiday decorations such as Christmas trees, lanters and other colorful light displays, which is familiar attraction at the entire stretch of avenues and roads during the holiday season.

The MMDA also advised operators of Metro Manila’s commercial districts to do the same to ensure public safety.

Tolentino asked local government officials to monitor prices of basic commodities to prevent abuses that produce disadvantage and detriment to the people in time of calamities.

Weather bureau official Bonifacio Pauenas said the storm might still hit the coast of Manila Bay and informal settlers and residents along Roxas Boulevard will be forced evacuated.

Storm surge is a sudden rise in sea level above normal, causing big waves as a tropical cyclone approaches the coast. A storm surge can sweep the coastline, and can extend several kilometers inland.

Pauenas said the National Capital Region is expected to be hit by the typhoon 5 a.m. on Monday beginning from the southern part of Metro Manila – Muntinlupa, Pasay, Paranaque, Las Pinas, Taguig, Pateros and Makati.

Authorities said during typhoon onslaught, people should: stay indoors and keep calm, monitor TV and radio reports, keep roads clear for emergency vehicles, go to the nearest designated evacuation center if your house is in a flood-prone area, have a flashlight and radio handy, with fresh batteries, stock up on food, potable water, kerosene, batteries, and first-aid supplies, in case of flooding, turn off the main sources of electricity, gas and water in your home, stack furniture above the expected flood level. Keep appliances, valuables, chemicals, toxic substances, and garbage beyond the reach of floodwaters, avoid low-lying areas, riverbanks, creeks and coastal areas, slopes, cliffs, and foothills. Rain can trigger landslides, rockslides or mudslides, Avoid wading through flooded areas. Do not attempt to cross flowing streams, do not operate any electrical equipment during a flood and do not use gas or electrical appliances that have been flooded.

As this developed, the Philippine Air Lines said it would cancel 41 flights over weekend (Dec. 6-7) due to typhoon Ruby.

Among the cancelled flights are those going to Bicol provinces, including Masbate and Samar towns such as cAtarman and Calbayog and Surigao in the Caraga region.

PAL added that all other domestic and international flights for Saturday and Sunday will be operating with minor delays.

Additional cancellations for Dec. 8 and 9 will be announced later as PAL determines the exact path to be taken by the typhoon.

For more information and flight concerns, passengers may visit the PAL website——or call PAL Reservations 855-8888.

Meanwhile, Gen.  Catapang said two C-130 cargo planes from Villamor Air Base with military personnel on board will be flown to Borongan, Samar, the military’s nerve center of the disaster operations, to provide typhoon victims food and emergency needs after the typhoon has left the country.

Catapang said military commanders in Masbate, Mindoro, Marinduque and Romblon has been tasked to mobilized troops and “ensure that personnel are properly present in the ground during, before and after the effects of Typhoon Ruby.

He added that more troops will be fielded to conduct clearing of debris left by the typhoon to ensure the free flow of food supplies and hasten the relief operations through land transport; instill peace and order and security to business establishments in typhoon-stricken areas.

In Bicol,  Albay was placed under a state of calamity, which would allow the use of calamity funds, ahead of typhoon Ruby’s fury.

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