Thousands of people in the Visayas have had their Christmas plans ruined after they were told to leave their homes as Tropical Storm “Ursula” (international name Phanfone) intensified into a typhoon that threatened Eastern Visayas on Christmas Day.
The eye of the typhoon was located at 20 kilometers east northeast of Guiuan, Eastern Samar.
Packing maximum sustained winds of 120 kms per hour near the center and gustiness of up to 150 kph, “Ursula” was moving west at 25 kph.
Officials on Christmas Eve said residents should evacuate coastal areas, and thousands more were stranded at ports with ferry services shut down as the nation hunkered down for rain and strong winds.
Damaging gale-to storm-force winds were forecast over the Pacific coast in the afternoon ahead of Ursula’s landfall, the state weather service said.
The typhoon made landfall on Salcedo, Eastern Samar on Christmas Eve at 4:45 p.m. and was forecast to cross the Visayas afterward.
Ursula was tracking a similar path as Super Typhoon “Yolanda,” the country’s deadliest cyclone on record which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.
All ships on the storm’s projected path through the central islands were ordered to stay in port, while local executives there told residents of the coasts as well as flood- and landslide-prone areas to move to safety.
“Some families are reluctant to evacuate because they want to celebrate Christmas at home, but local officials will force them out if they refuse to heed our warnings,” regional civil defense official Reyden Cabrigas said.
Cabrigas, speaking by phone from the central city of Tacloban, said evacuations were underway there as well as nearby Samar, but added he did not immediately have a total count.
“We are aiming for zero casualties,” Cabrigas added.
More than 21,000 ferry passengers trying to get home for the Christmas holidays have been stranded at ports as shipping shut down, the coast guard said Tuesday.
Local carriers also suspended dozens of domestic flights.
The state weather service said Ursula may strengthen into a typhoon with sustained peak winds of more than 120 kilometers an hour overnight Wednesday.
It advised residents, including those in Manila, to stay indoors on Christmas Day to avoid the high winds which can cause damage to weaker structures.
The Philippines is the first major landmass facing the Pacific cyclone belt, and the archipelago gets hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, putting millions of people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.
Strong winds and associated dangers like floods, landslides, and, more rarely, giant walls of seawater pounding the coasts kill scores of people each year, wipe out farmers’ harvests and destroy infrastructure.
Homes built with flimsy materials, as well as populated areas along the coasts, floodplains, and mountainous interiors, are often the most vulnerable.
Tropical cyclone wind signal no. 3 remained hoisted over Masbate, including Ticao Islands, Northern Samar, Eastern Samar, Biliran, Leyte and extreme Northern Cebu, including Camotes Islands.
Signal no. 2 was in effect in the southern portion of Quezon, Marinduque, Oriental Mindoro, including Lubang Island, Romblon, Albay, Sorsogon, Burias Islands, Calamian and Cuyo Islands, central portion
of northern Cebu, northern Antique, Capiz, Aklan, southern Leyte, extreme northern Negros Occidental and Dinagat Islands.
Metro Manila, Bulacan, Bataan, Rizal, Cavite, the rest of Quezon, Laguna, Batangas, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Catanduanes, northern Palawan, the rest of Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor, the rest of Antique, the rest of Iloilo, Guimaras, the rest of Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental and Surigao del Norte, including Siargao and Bucas Grande Islands were placed under signal no. 1.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration said the eyewall of Ursula is bringing violent winds over the southern portion of Eastern Samar and was likely to affect Biliran, the southern portion of Samar, and northern portion of Leyte in the coming hours.
More than 60 flights scheduled for Christmas Day were cancelled due to bad weather brought by Typhoon Ursula.
Philippine Airlines suspended 24 domestic flights, while Cebu Pacific Air (CEB) and its sister airline CebGo made a total of 19 cancellations, and Air Asia suspended 16 domestic and five international flights.
In Manila, the affected PAL flights were to and from Roxas and Kalibo, while CEB and CebGo cancelled flights to and from Roxas, Caticlan, Marinduque, Tablas, Masbate and Busuanga, and Air Asia cancelled flights to and from Kalibo and Caticlan.
PAL also suspended its 10 flight operations between Clark and Busuanga, and another 10 in Cebu to and from Busuanga, Siargao and Caticlan.
In Kalibo, Air Asia suspended five flights to and from Busan, Incheon, and Shanghai.
On Tuesday, PAL, CEB, and CebGo also suspended a number of domestic flights because of the bad weather.
“Affected passengers of the cancelled December 24 and December 25 flights have been rebooked on the next available flights. Passengers with contact details on their Passenger Name Records (PNRs) will be notified on their new flight date through e-mail,” the PAL said in a statement.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development said it was ready.
As of today Monday, Dec. 23, the DSWD said it had a stockpile of 6,416 family food packs, 563 sacks of National Food Authority rice (50 kg each), 5,557 cans of beef loaf, 4,053 cans of corned beef, 144,644 sachets of coffee, 2,000 blankets and 6,029 malongs.
“All of these relief items are at DSWD’s Regional Resource Operations Section in Tacloban City and are ready to be distributed once the local government units request for augmentation,” the department said.
“DSWD staff are also alert and are prepared to render Quick Response Team duty when the need arises,” it added.
The department added that it has a standby fund of P1.47 million that can be used to buy additional relief items when necessary.
Local government units and national government agencies in Eastern Visayas have stepped up preparations as Severe Tropical Storm Ursula threatened to batter the region on Christmas Eve.
On Tuesday morning, five of the six provinces in the region were placed under tropical cyclone warning signal number two with 61 to 120 kilometers per hour wind in the next 24 hours. These provinces are Northern Samar, Eastern Samar, Samar, Leyte, and Biliran.
In Guiuan, Eastern Samar, Acting Mayor Veronica Ramirez issued a memorandum order mandating all local government workers to report to work on Christmas Eve to assist in the disaster preparedness effort.
Employees who are on leave were directed to report back to work.
The Eastern Samar Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council convened on Monday afternoon for a pre-disaster risk assessment meeting ahead of the storm’s landfall.
In the coastal town of Tanauan, Leyte, acting Mayor Ronald Flores issued a directive mandating pre-emptive evacuation among residents residing near hazard-prone areas.
In Naval, Biliran, the local officials prepared its gymnasium for evacuees.
Modular tents were setup by the local government for displaced families. Some tents are dedicated to senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and the pregnant.
“We placed a Christmas Tree at the center of the gymnasium to keep the spirit of Christmas alive even in times of calamity,” said Naval Mayor Gerard Espina on his social media post.
More than 9,000 passengers, over a thousand trucks, buses, and cars are stranded at the major ports in Bicol due to Ursula, a report from the Office of Civil Defense said on Tuesday.
This, as the Philippine Coast Guard imposed the “no sailing” policy after storm signals were raised over six Bicol provinces.
In related developments:
* The Coast Guard rescued seven passengers of a private-owned pump boat that sank off the town of San Jose in the Province of Dinagat Islands on Monday. The Provincial Information Office of Province of Dinagat Islands said the pump boat traveling from Surigao City to San Jose town was slammed by big waves due to the severe weather brought about by Ursula.
* The weather bureau warned of possible flooding in 34 major river systems in the Eastern Visayas region due to heavy rains brought by Ursula. In an advisory issued Tuesday morning, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) identified several rivers in six provinces that would likely be affected by the heavy downpour. These watercourses are in Sangputan, Palo, Solano, Daguitan, Marabong, Cadacan, Bongquirogon, Salug, Pagbanagaran, Pagsangahan, andBinahaan in Leyte; and Catarman, Bugko, Pambujan, Catubig, Palapag, Mano, and Gamay in Northern Samar.
* The Department of the Interior and Local Government identified 2,433 villages in the region as highly susceptible to flooding. The department urged local governments to conduct appropriate preparedness and disaster risk reduction measures as needed. With PNA READ: NGCP braces for ‘Ursula’ impactREAD: ‘Ursula’ intensifies
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