Typhoon “Ompong” gained speed while changing its direction Thursday afternoon.
“Ompong” was spotted 560 kilometers northeast of Borongan City, Eastern Samar, moving west northwest at 25 kph, the weather bureau said in its 4 pm bulletin.
Forecaster Nikos Peñaranda of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration warned that storm surges of six meters or 19 feet high could hit the coasts of Cagayan, Isabela, Aparri, Palanan and Ilocos Sur as “Ompong” approaches the Luzon landmass.
“Based on historical storm surge data, such [A strong] typhoon could trigger five- to six-meter high storm surges,” he said.
“We will consistently issue advisories to our fisherfolk. Right now, don’t venture out to sea, especially in areas where warning signals have been raised,” he added.
“Ompong” is forecast to become a super typhoon before making landfall.
Packing maximum sustained winds of 205 kms per hour and gusts of up to 255 kph.
Tropical cyclone warning Signal No. 1 was raised over Metro Manila and 37 provinces or nearly the entire Luzon.
The areas under Signal No. 1 include Batanes; Cagayan, including Babuyan Group of Islands; Apayao; Abra; Kalinga; Mountain Province; Ifugao; Isabela; Benguet; Pangasinan; La Union; Ilocos Norte; Ilocos Sur; Quirino; Nueva Vizcaya; Aurora; Pampanga; Bataan; Zambales; Tarlac; Nueva Ecija; Bulacan; Rizal; Cavite; Batangas; Laguna; Quezon, including Polillo Island; Northern Occidental Mindoro; Northern Oriental Mindoro; Masbate; Camarines Norte; Camarines Sur; Catanduanes; Albay; Sorsogon; Burias and Ticao island, and Northern Samar.
The weather bureau said “Ompong” will make landfall in the Cagayan-Isabela area on Saturday morning if it does not change its direction.
Gener Quitlong, Pagasa forecaster, said those to be affected by the powerful typhoon and the concerned government agencies still had about 36 hours to prepare.
Pagasa forecaster Rene Paciente likened Typhoon “Ompong’s” strength to that of Super Typhoon “Lawin” (Haima), which hit northern Luzon in October 2016, leaving at least eight people dead.
The bureau previously said that “Ompong” will likely peak at 220 kph in maximum sustained winds with gusts of 270 kph, a little weaker than Lawin’s 225 kph top sustained winds.
The typhoons are also similar in diameter, Pagasa noted, with Ompong measuring 900 kilometers and Lawin 800 kilometers.
In Northern Luzon, heavy to intense rains will persist today and will peak on Saturday when “Ompong” makes landfall.
According to Pagasa, Baguio City and Tuguegarao will receive the highest rainfall on Saturday, while monsoon rains also will bring occasional heavy rains to Palawan, Zamboanga and the Visayas.
Chris Perez, forecaster, said only the “outermost periphery” of Metro Manila would be affected by “Ompong.”
President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday designated presidential political adviser Francis Tolentino as his conduit for preparations and disaster response.
Duterte also tasked Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, NDRRMC executive director Ricardo Jalad, and Tolentino to closely monitor the provinces in Northern Luzon along Ompong’s expected path.
The President said he was satisfied with the typhoon preparations.
Meanwhile, 30 domestic flights scheduled for Friday and Saturday have been canceled by Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific Air, in anticipation of bad weather.
PAL announced on Thursday it has suspended four flights—Clark to and from Basco and Tuguegarao —scheduled today (Sept. 14) and eight other domestic flights—Manila to and from Laoag, Clark to and from Basco, and Clark to and from Tuguegarao scheduled on Sept. 15.
“In view of the existing current path and strength of Typhoon Ompong (International Codename ‘Mangkhut’), Philippine Airlines has canceled the following flights originally scheduled on September 14 (Friday) -September 15 (Saturday),” said Maria Cielo Villaluna, PAL corporate communications department chief and spokesperson.
On the same dates, Cebu Pacific and its sister airline CebGo also canceled domestic flights affecting 18 flights in Manila to and from Tuguegarao, Virac, Basco, Naga, Cauayan.
Both airlines are closely monitoring the weather situation and assured air travelers they will provide updates should other routes be affected.
Heavy rains are expected in Northern and Central Luzon as well as the National Capital Region throughout the weekend until Monday.
PAL encouraged passengers to check the status of their flights within 48 hours to flight departure by logging on to the airline’s flight status page or by downloading the PAL Mobile App.
Cebu Pacific officials, on the other hand, advised affected passengers not to proceed to the airport, but instead avail any of the options, without penalties: rebook their flights for travel within 30 days from original departure date; place the cost of the ticket in a Travel Fund for future use, or get a full refund.
Manila International Airport Authority general manager Eddie Monreal earlier asked passengers to coordinate with their respective airlines for any announcements of flight cancellations, rescheduling, or rebooking of flights in anticipation of Typhoon Ompong’s effect on flight operations.
Air Swift has also canceled four flights to and from Basco in connection with the anticipated arrival of the super typhoon.
The Civil Aviation of the Philippines has advised all airport general managers in Laoag, Tuguegarao, Basco, Legazpi, Naga and Virac to be prepared for the bad weather condition.
CAAP director general Capt. Jim Sydiongco reminded the area managers to be present and be in their respective areas before, during and after Ompong makes landfall to secure the airport especially the runway from all kinds of debris and other foreign objects that can disrupt airport operations.
Already, the typhoon has forced the cancellation of sea trips in Manila, Sorsogon, Albay, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Northern Samar and Negros Oriental, the Coast Guard said Thursday.
Some 2,828 passengers were stranded after their trips were canceled. The Coast Guard added that 188 rolling cargoes, 10 vessels and four motor boats were stranded in various ports.
The Palace assured the public that the government is ready for Ompong.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said several government agencies have been ordered to facilitate emergency measures to make sure that the country’s state of readiness will be at the highest level.
“The Department of the Interior and Local Government has been monitoring the preparations of the local governments, particularly their preemptive evacuation plans,” said Roque in a Palace press briefing Thursday afternoon.
Also, the Department of Social Welfare and Development has readied food packs and assistance worth P1.7 billion to aid the possible casualties of the storm. The relief goods will be distributed to the expected path of ‘Ompong’ in Northern Luzon.
“The Department of Health also prepared enough medicines, medical supplies, and deployment of medical teams to respond whenever needed,” Roque said.
“We also have deployed quick response teams in the province of Batanes and established alternative communication devices to ensure that clear line of communication as Ompong hits the country,” said Roque. “We are prepared.”
The Palace official also called on the farmers in Benguet to try harvesting the vegetables and harvest those that can be salvaged before Ompong makes its landfall in Northern Cagayan.
Typhoon Mangkhut, as Ompong is called internationally, has already blasted through the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, and was speeding across the Pacific with winds that can gust as high as 255 kilometers per hour.
Authorities said some 10 million people in the Philippines are in the storm’s path, not including millions more in heavily-populated coastal China.
Thousands began evacuating in seaside areas of the northern tip of Luzon, where the storm is expected to make landfall early Saturday.
“The pre-emptive evacuation is going on in our coastal municipalities, the villages that are prone to storm surge,” local government spokesman Rogelio Sending said. “We are going to evacuate more.”
Flooding, landslides and wind damage from the coming storm were top concerns as authorities prepared equipment for rescue and relief operations.
Schools were shuttered and some farmers took to their fields to start early harvest of corn and rice that could be ruined by flooding.
An average of 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year, killing hundreds of people and leaving millions in near-perpetual poverty.The country’s deadliest on record is Super Typhoon Yolanda, which left more than 7,350 people dead or missing across the central Philippines in November 2013.
The state weather service said Ompong will be the strongest typhoon so far this year, with sustained winds of 205 kilometers per hour.
The typhoon is expected to boost the intensity of seasonal monsoon rains that have already caused widespread flooding in central Luzon.
Poor communities reliant on fishing are some of the most vulnerable to fierce typhoon winds and the storm surge that pounds the coast.
“It will bring destruction. They are the ones greatly affected. Even moderate winds can topple their houses,” regional civil defense official Dante Balao said.
Hong Kong is also in Mangkhut’s sights and preparations there were already under way, though the storm was not expected to hit until Sunday.
Social media users and radio commentators in Hong Kong said they were stocking up on food and supplies.
The Hong Kong Observatory warned residents to prepare for the storm, saying it posed a “considerable threat.”
The Philippines state weather service said heavy rains and strong winds are expected from Friday over the north and center of Luzon, along with rough seas on the coasts.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it expects “substantial damage” on the Philippine path of Ompong.
Storm surges of up to seven meters (23 feet) are expected to hit coastal areas, it said, while heavy rains could trigger landslides and flash floods. With Vito Barcelo, AFP
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