• ‘Labuyo’ batters Northern Luzon, isolates thousands

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    Children look for salvageable materials washed up by Typhoon Labuyo in Baseco, Tondo in Manila. Classes were suspended in Metro Manila in anticipation of floods brought by the storm. Photo By Rene H. Dilan

    Children look for salvageable materials washed up by Typhoon Labuyo in Baseco, Tondo in Manila. Classes were suspended in Metro Manila in anticipation of floods brought by the storm. Photo By Rene H. Dilan

    TYPHOON Labuyo (international codename Utor) battered several provinces in Northern Luzon, particularly Aurora where it made landfall on Monday morning, and thousands of people are isolated after power and communication lines were blown down by gusts.

    The storm also damaged vegetable, rice and corn plantations at a time when farmers were to harvest their crops. Officials estimated damage to agriculture at P1 billion.

    The northern part of Aurora was cut off after landslides blocked the single road to Casiguran town.

    In Nueva Vizcaya, more than 100 families near the banks of the Magat River in Bambang, Bayombong and Solano towns left their homes for higher ground.

    With land and sea access blocked, there was no way to reach Casiguran and two neighboring towns, according to Aurora Gov. Gerardo Noveras.

    Rough seas prevented the delivery of supplies and the evacuation of residents.

    “We do not know what’s happening in Casiguran because the communication lines are down. But based on initial reports before communications were cut, three towns the northern part of Aurora were badly hit,” Noveras said in an interview on GMA 7.

    Strong winds blew away roofs of houses and other structures including that of a local police station, he added.

    According to Noveras, families from Casiguran, Dinalungan, and Dilasag had been evacuated. The three towns lost electricity on Sunday night, while central Aurora lost electricity at around 2 a.m. on Monday.

    Missing
    On Monday, 23 people were reported missing at the height of the typhoon that carried winds of up to 200 kilometers (124 miles) an hour. Labuyo was the most powerful storm to strike the country this year and authorities were on alert for worst-case scenarios.

    By Monday afternoon, Labuyo had weakened considerably and slowed down as it moved toward the Ilocos Region.

    The eye of the storm was tracked near Baguio City with maximum sustained winds of 165 kilometers per hour. It was also anticipated to move west northwest at 22 kilometers per hour.

    The southwest monsoon will be enhanced by Labuyo, bringing moderate to heavy rains in Southern Luzon and Western Visayas.

    Storm signals
    There were rain and gusts in Metro Manila, Olongapo City, Angeles City, and Tagaytay City, while Tuguegarao City, Baguio City, and Laoag City were under stormy skies.

    Storm signal No. 1 was hoisted over the provinces of Batanes, Bataan, Pampanga, Bulacan, Rizal, northern Quezon including Polillo Island, Laguna, Cavite, and Metro Manila.

    Signal No. 2 was raised in Calayan and Babuyan Islands, Zambales, Tarlac, the rest of Aurora and Nueva Ecija. Signal No. 3 was up in Cagayan, Isabela, Apayao, Kalinga, Abra, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan, Benguet, Mountain Province, Ifugao, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino and Northern Aurora.

    Vehicles going to and from Manila were stranded along the heavily flooded national road in Almaguer and Abinganan villages in Bambang town and in a detour bridge in Santa Fe town as Magat River and its tributaries swelled.

    Nueva Vizcaya Board Member Efren Quiben who is monitoring heavily inundated areas in Bambang, said families had to climb to their roof where they waited to be rescued.

    Quiben said Gov. Ruth Padilla ordered the Provincial Disaster Preparedness Team (PDPT) to bring affected families to safer ground in the team’s rubber boats and dump trucks.

    “We have considered to temporarily open long suburb detour routes for heavy transport vehicles and buses so they can at least move and ease traffic while clearing half-cut heavily flooded roads lying along Magat River,” he said.

    Quiben said the Nueva Vizcaya Agricultural Trading (NVAT) center in Bambang was submerged damaging more than 1,000 tons of vegetable products.

    NVAT is the largest vegetable trading center in the province, which is one of the biggest suppliers of vegetables in Divisoria market.

    Two-way radio
    In the severely affected provinces, the only method of communication was two-way radios.

    Television footage from Aurora province, along the east coast of Luzon, showed uprooted trees that fell on houses, while roofs were ripped off some buildings.

    The civil defense director for Aurora, Josefina Timoteo, said they received reports that more than 600 houses and 12 school buildings were damaged in Dinalungan town.

    Alex Uy, the civil defense chief in charge of Baguio City, said power outages were widespread across northern Luzon.

    “The wind speed is strong enough to topple power lines. Even in our office, we have no electricity. We have to use a generator,” Uy told Agence France-Presse.

    Dams
    Also on Monday, three gates of Magat Dam in Isabela were opened in anticipation of heavy rain from the typhoon.

    Pagasa hydrologist Elmer Caringal said that as of 3 a.m., the dam’s level was at 186.16 meters, below the 193-meter maximum.

    He also said the level in Ipo Dam in Bulacan was 100.8 meters, slightly above the maximum level of 100.2 meters.

    Angat Dam in Bulacan was at 189.88 meters, below the 210-meter maximum level.

    As for Ambuklao and Binga Dams in Benguet, Caringal said any excess water may go to San Roque Dam in Pangasinan, whose water level is way below the 280-meter maximum.

    Caringal said the level at Pantabangan Dam in Nueva Ecija is 36.41 meters below the 221-meter maximum.

    Cancelled flights
    At least 10 domestic flights were cancelled because of bad weather, according to an advisory from the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA).

    The MIAA’s Media Affairs Division said Cebu Pacific Air and PAL Express passengers that were affected by the cancellations have been accommodated on the next available flights.

    The following flights that were cancelled are: Cebu Pacific 5J-504/5J-505, Manila-Tuguegarao-Manila; 5J-196/5J-197, Manila-
    Cauayan-Manila; and 5J-821/5J-822, Manila-Virac-Manila.

    PAL Express grounded four flights – 2P-084/2P-085, Manila-Basco-Manila; and 2P-014/2P-015, Manila-Tuguegarao-Manila.

    Cebu Pacific advised their passengers to also have the option to rebook their flights up to 30 days from the date of cancellation.

    Stable prices
    Despite the damage brought to crops by the storm, the National Food Authority (NFA) assured that there was enough rice in areas hit by Labuyo.

    In a statement, NFA Administrator Orlan Calayag said the agency’s rice inventory was pegged at 12.901 million 50-kilo bags, or 645,056 metric tons– above the traditional requirement of 15-day food security buffer stock during the lean months.

    “Our rice stocks will be enough to last until the main harvest by mid-September,” Calayag said.

    NFA officials in the affected provinces said that aside from a widespread brownout there were no other problems in terms of food supply. NFA Aurora, for instance, has a total rice inventory of 86,907 bags of rice, enough to last for 60 days.

    Calayag said the NFA’s daily market monitoring also shows that there are no problems in supply and prices of rice in any of the markets being monitored across the country.

    He said the NFA is regularly infusing stocks into the markets to stabilize rice supply and prices.

    He called on rice traders to avoid unwarranted overpricing or hoarding especially when natural calamities occur.

    Relief efforts
    Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman directed all regional offices in the path of the typhoon to be ready to assist local government units in relief distribution and management of evacuation centers.

    Soliman said the DSWD has pre-positioned P160.35 million in relief emergency resources to all affected regions.

    In Region III, the DSWD regional office prepared 3,197 family food packs and P3 million standby funds to help stricken families.

    In Region V, the DSWD regional office reported that evacuation centers in Pioduran, Albay, closed after evacuees returned to their homes. The 3,485 persons stranded in various ports were provided hot meals by the Catanduanes government.

    With reports from AFP and Benjie Vergara

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