Malacañang said the government was prepared as the country braced for what could be “the most damaging” storm this year, with Typhoon “Karen” (international name “Sarika”) accelerating toward Central Luzon and expected to make landfall on Aurora province early on Sunday.
Karen, packing maximum sustained winds of up to 130 kilometers per hour near the center and gustiness of up to 180 kph, moved faster at 22 kph as of 5 p.m. on Saturday, from the earlier forecast movement of 20 kph.
As a result, landfall on Aurora could take place as early as 12 midnight, said weather forecaster Benison Estareja of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa).
Karen is expected to cross Central Luzon on Sunday afternoon and leave the Philippine area of responsibility (PAR) Monday morning.
A person was reported dead in Catanduanes province, which experienced heavy rains that left more than 246,000 residents without electricity and telephone lines.
More than 400 people were evacuated from their homes and sea and air travel was suspended in the Bicol region as a safety precaution, officials said.
Storm surges ‘possible’
Thirty-seven areas were placed under tropical cyclone warning signals as of the 5 p.m. Pagasa bulletin.
Signal No. 3, which means winds of 121 to 170 kph in the next 18 hours, was raised over Pangasinan, northern Zambales, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Aurora, northern Quezon including Polillo Island, La Union, Benguet, Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino.
Signal No. 2 was raised over Ilocos Sur, southern Isabela, Mt. Province, Ifugao, the rest of Zambales, Pampanga, Bulacan, Bataan, Rizal, Metro Manila, the rest of Quezon, Camarines Norte and Catanduanes. These areas will experience winds of 60 to 120 kph in the next 24 hours.
Areas under Signals 2 and 3 were expected to be hit by heavy rains, and storm surges were “possible” in coastal areas, Pagasa said. Storm surges could reach a height of 2.6 meters in coastal areas under Signal No. 3, Pagasa said.
Pagasa also raised Signal no. 1 over Ilocos Norte, Abra, Kalinga, the rest of Isabela, southern Apayao, southern Cagayan, Oriental Mindoro, Cavite, Batangas, Laguna, Marinduque, Camarines Sur, Albay and Burias Island.
Winds of 30 to 60 kph and occasional heavy rains were expected in the next 36 hours.
While the storm is not the most powerful to hit the country this year, it could cause the most damage as it will cross heavily populated areas just north of Metro Manila, Pagasa’s Estareja said.
“We can see from the radar that the storm is very destructive. It can destroy wooden houses, it can topple trees. It can possibly rip off roofs,” he told AFP. “This could so far, be the most damaging typhoon this year,” Estareja said.
Low-lying areas will be at risk of flooding while mountainous areas could suffer landslides, he said.
“This one will have an impact because most of the people are in [that part of]Luzon. Even Metropolitan Manila will be affected,” he warned.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella urged the public to take extra care and “be on the lookout.”
He said all concerned government agencies, including the Department of Social Welfare and Development, were “doing everything” to make sure people were not in harm’s way.
In Catanduanes province, at least one person was reported dead while landslides occurred in the Bicol region on Saturday.
The unidentified casualty was found at the seaside of Sitio Bitaogan, Barangay Binanwahan in Bato town, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office in Catanduanes reported.
Flashfloods were also reported in the National Highway of Barangay Divino Rostro, San Andres, Catanduanes.
Local government units across the Bicol region enforced the preemptive evacuation of residents living in landslide-prone areas and the eastern seaboard of Albay province.
Fallen trees and electrical posts along Maharlika Highway in Albay and across the Bicol region caused power outages.
Tiwi town Mayor Jaime Villanueva reported a landslide in the upland barangay of Maynonong.
Forced evacuation of residents living in landslide-prone areas and coastal villages were ordered by Villanueva, as well as Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal.
In Libon, Albay, the local government unit used military trucks to evacuate residents as flood waters rose near Bato Lake due to heavy rainfall.
All flights in Bicol were cancelled and all sea travel was suspended.
Miss Earth event cancelled
The cancellation of all flights in Bicol also prompted the cancellation of the Miss Earth Swimsuit competition in Sorsogon province on Sunday, as well as other pageant events.
The Philippine Coast Guard reported that as of 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, at least 1,209 passengers were stranded as waters continued to rise in various seaports of Bicol. The highest number of stranded passengers was reported in Matnog, Sorsogon where they were bound for the Visayas and Mindanao regions.
The coast guard also said 233 rolling cargoes, 18 sea vessels and 14 motorized boats were stranded.
Flood warning in Cagayan
The Cagayan Valley Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council issued a flood warning to residents along Magat River, Cagayan River and its tributaries.
The warning was issued following the release of water starting Saturday morning from the Magat Dam Reservoir in Ramon town in Isabela by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) Magat River Integrated Irrigation System.
Officials said the reservoir elevation had to be lowered to control flooding in anticipation of the expected inflow of a large volume of water from the expected heavy downpour.
Authorities allowed the outflow of water from the Magat Dam Reservoir at a rate of 567 cubic meters per second (CMS), with water inflow at 258 CMS.
NIA engineer Wilfredo Gloria explained that the total release of water at the rate of 567 CMS covered irrigation, power generation and release through the spillway gate.
The volume of water released was more than the volume of inflow to maintain a safe level of water in the reservoir, at below the normal “high” level of 190 meters, he said.
The spilling level of the dam reservoir is at 191 meters while the maximum and critical level is at 193 meters.
The normal water level of 175 meters is needed to maintain a sufficient supply of irrigation water to farmlands, while the level of 160 meters is the minimum operational level for the Magat Dam to continue generating power.
Gloria said the water level on Saturday reached 187.61 meters, a slight decrease compared with Friday’s 187.93 meters at an outflow 258 CMS.
Located at the border of Ramon, Isabela and Alfonso Lista Ifugao, the rock-filled Magat Dam supplies irrigation to approximately 85,000 hectares of farmland in Isabela and Quirino.