THOUSANDS of evacuees in Cagayan Valley and Central Luzon have returned to their homes as Typhoon Chedeng (international name: Maysak) weakened and was downgraded into a tropical depression after making landfall on Sunday.
Disaster mitigation teams enforced preemptive evacuation of residents in coastal communities over the weekend as Chedeng, which packed winds of up to 230 kilometers per hour, churned into the country.
In Cagayan Valley, Norma Talosig, Office of Civil Defense director, said about 1,500 people were evacuated on Friday and Saturday. As of Sunday afternoon, most of them had already returned to their homes.
Talosig, however, advised residents to be vigilant since gale winds may be still be experienced and the typhoon may bring more rains.
In Central Luzon, some 2,000 evacuees also returned to their homes on Sunday.
Nigel Lontoc, assistant director of OCD in Central Luzon, said there were also no reported casualties and damage to property and agriculture as of Sunday.
Chedeng, which began as a super typhoon in the Pacific Ocean, reached the northeast coast of the main island of Luzon at 8 a.m. on Sunday with winds of 55 kilometers an hour, according to chief state weather forecaster Esperanza Cayanan.
“As of now, most of our fears have melted away,” she said shortly after the depression reached Dinapigue, a remote town in Isabela, about 250 kilometers from Manila.
The government had evacuated more than 25,000 people from coastal villages in the region, while police drove away thousands of tourists from beaches on nearby Aurora province as a precaution against potential tsunami-like waves known as storm surges.
The tourists, many of whom had come from Manila and nearby areas to enjoy the long Easter holidays in the mainly Catholic nation, breathed a sigh of relief and dove back into the still choppy waters on Easter Sunday.
“We made a calculated risk [that Maysak would dissipate]and we got lucky. Prayers also helped,” Manila-based television producer Rona Agtay, 39, told Agence France-Presse as she hit the surf.
State weather forecaster Shelly Ignacio said the super typhoon met unfavorable atmospheric conditions as it approached land, causing the storm system to dissipate dramatically overnight on Saturday.
At its current strength, Maysak can break tree branches and may take the roofs off houses made of light materials, while sea travel remains risky for small boats, the state weather service said in its latest bulletin.
“We expect this system to melt away as it crosses the mountains, although there is a small possibility it could survive by the time it hits the water [South China Sea] tomorrow,” Ignacio said.
‘No casualties reported’
More than 500 boats were also ordered to remain at port in the region, while 10 domestic flights were suspended. Authorities were expected to lift the restrictions on Sunday.
With the improving conditions, local officials will now make the call on when to send the evacuees back home, civil defense director Alexander Pama told a news conference.
“We had not received any reports of casualties,” Pama said.
About 20 typhoons and storms hit the Philippines each year, many of them deadly, but rarely hit in April.