LEGAZPI, Albay: Super typhoon “Nina” (international name “Nock-Ten”) lashed out at the Bicol region before hitting land in Catanduanes province at 6:30 in the evening on Sunday, sending more than one million people to evacuation centers on Christmas Day.
“We’re bracing for the worst impact of super typhoon Nina. But everything is in place including food provision for the evacuees,” Catanduanes Gov. Joseph Cua told The Manila Times.
Babies, toddlers and old people were loaded onto military trucks in pouring rain to flee the path of the powerful typhoon barreling toward the disaster-prone archipelago.
Officials warned of storm surges up to 2.5 meters high, moderate to heavy rain within the storm’s 500-kilometer diameter, landslides and flash floods.
Cua said Catanduanes disaster officials had evacuated 3,160 families or 14,160 people from 59 barangays (villages) in 11 municipalities.
In Albay province, Gov. Al Francis Bichara ordered business establishments to close at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday to allow employees to go home safely.
Albay evacuated at least 29,682 families or 138,920 persons from all villages prone to flooding, landslide, mud or lahar flow and storm surges.
“We went around with megaphones and gave instructions to our people to eat breakfast, pack and board the military trucks,” Alberto Lindo, an official of Alcala, a farming village of 3,300 people near the active Mayon volcano, told AFP.
About 100 babies, toddlers, parents and elderly people were the first to be trucked off to a school some seven kilometers away as rain and strong winds shook trees at midday.
“There are large ash deposits on the slopes (of Mayon). Heavy rain can dislodge them and bury our homes in mud,” Lindo added.
Philippine and international weather services said Nock-Ten, named after a bird found in Laos, was set to to cross Albay, Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte in Bicol; then southern Quezon, Laguna, Batangas and Cavite.
Weather forecasters said the typhoon would eventually affect an area of nearly 42 million people.
“Floods terrify me. Each time I hear about a coming typhoon I want to throw up,” Criselda Buenvenuto, 68, told AFP as she joined neighbors sheltering at a school in the town of Santo Domingo.
At 5 p.m. on Sunday, Tropical Cyclone Warning Signal No. 4 was raised over Catanduanes and Camarines Sur; Signal No. 3 over Burias Islands, Albay, Camarines Norte, southern Quezon, Sorsogon and Marinduque;
Signal No. 2 over Metro Manila, Masbate including Ticao Island, Oriental Mindoro, Batangas, Laguna, rest of Quezon including Polillo Island, Occidental Mindoro including Lubang Island, Romblon, Cavite, Rizal, Bulacan and Bataan; and Signal No. 1 over Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Aurora, Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Zambales, Pampanga, Tarlac and Calamian Group of Islands.
‘Zero casualty’ goal
The US Joint Typhoon Warning Center has forecast sustained winds of 231 kilometers an hour and gusts of 278 km when Nina makes landfall at the isolated island province of Catanduanes, home to 250,000 people.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council raised its alert status to red from blue, with disaster mitigation teams pre-positioned and put on standby.
In Camarines Sur province, Gov. Miguel Villafuerte said on his Facebook page that nearly 90,000 residents have been evacuated as part of his goal to achieve “zero casualty.”
In another post on Twitter, the governor hinted at the difficulty of convincing people to recognize the approaching danger amid the revelry.
“Please evacuate, we will offer roast pig at the evacuation centers,” he tweeted.
Clear the beaches
Some 20 typhoons or lesser storms strike the Philippines each year, routinely killing hundreds of people, and Bicol is often the first region to be hit. It prides itself on having sharpened its disaster response to minimize casualties.
“We have recalled all of our first responders from vacation. They will be on 24-hour standby and on call for rescues or support,” Rachel Miranda, spokeswoman for the region’s civil defense office, told AFP.
Nina, which arrived outside the normal typhoon season, caused all ferry services and commercial flights in Bicol to be suspended.
Some of the thousands of commuters stranded at dozens of ports closed for the typhoon spent the night inside evacuation centers on Saturday.
Rescue workers in Metro Manila and the flood-prone central Luzon plains to the north have been put on standby, evacuation centers opened and food and other rations stocked.
The coastguard on Sunday ordered the beaches south of Manila to be cleared of holidaymakers by Monday, while residents of the capital’s seaside slums were warned to leave their homes.
WITH A REPORT FROM FERNAN MARASIGAN