Albay under state of calamity
Heavy rain and powerful winds lashed Eastern Visayas on Saturday hours before Typhoon Ruby (international codename: Hagupit) hit land, sending millions to shelter in packed evacuation centers.
The entire province of Albay was placed under a state of calamity as local officials continued to evacuate residents threatened by strong winds, floods, mud and lahar flows, storm surges and landslides.
Across the country, people huddled in evacuation centers and their homes as the typhoon churned towards Eastern Visayas.
Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd called for a final effort to bring more people in vulnerable areas to safe shelters hours before the typhoon hit land.
“This is our last push. Every person we can save now is one less we have to look for after the typhoon passes,” he said.
The weather bureau said Samar would be the first to be hit by Ruby, which was packing maximum winds of 175 kilometers per hour and gustiness of 210 kph.
As of 4 p.m. Saturday, the typhoon was tracked at 100 km east of Dolores, Eastern Samar.
Ruby is expected to take three days to cut across the Philippines, passing over mostly poor farming central regions, then possibly the southern regions of the densely populated Metro Manila.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Administration (Pagasa) and the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center have projected slightly different paths for the typhoon, with the American service predicting it will get closer to Metro Manila.
Regardless, tens of millions of people live in the typhoon’s path, including those in the central Philippines who are still struggling to recover from the devastation of Super Typhoon Yolanda 13 months ago.
Yolanda was the strongest storm ever recorded on land, with winds of 315 kilometers an hour.
It also generated tsunami-like storm surges that claimed more than 7,350 lives, making it one of the Philippines’ deadliest natural disasters.
In Tacloban, thousands of typhoon survivors crammed into schools, churches and other evacuation centers on Saturday.
“We are afraid. People are panicking,” Alma Gaut, 36, whose house was destroyed and mother died during Yolanda, said as she huddled in the second floor of a university with more than 1,000 other people.
“All we have is a tattered, plastic sheet to sleep on. My grandmother is already feeling the cold,” Gaut said.
Outside, the town appeared almost deserted as heavy rain fell and trees bent with the wind in what residents feared was an ominous prelude to another disaster.
In Catbalogan, the capital of Samar, authorities were preparing for water surges more than one storey high.
The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) yesterday warned that storm surges caused by Ruby may reach up to 4.6 meters or 15 feet.
The agency’s Project Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (Project NOAH) said the towns of Tarangnan, Sta. Margarita, Gandara and Catbalogan in Western Samar may be hit by storm surges as high as 3.6 meters to 4.6 meters. Also threatened are the municipalities of Mobo and Dimasalang in Masbate, which may be hit by storm surges as high as 3.4 meters to 4.4 meters.
More than 10,000 people had been ordered into safe buildings, according to Catbalogan Mayor Stephany Uy-Tan.
“We don’t want people to panic but I ordered forced evacuations so they would be safe,” Uy-Tan told Agence France-Presse by phone.
“There are always some people who say the wind is not yet that strong, that there is still no rain . . . we just have to explain that there is a huge possibility of a storm surge.”
In the eastern region of Bicol alone, authorities said they were aiming for 2.5 million people—half the local population—to be in evacuation centers.
The weather bureau raised Storm Signal No. 3 over Catanduanes, Albay, Burias Island, Sorsogon, Masbate, Ticao Island, Northern and Eastern Samar, Samar and Biliran.
Camarines Sur, Romblon, Aklan, Capiz, Northern Cebu including Cebu City, Bantayan Island, Leyte and Southern Leyte were under Signal No. 2. Southern Quezon, Camarines Norte, Batangas, Marinduque, Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, Antique, Iloilo, Guimaras, Northern Negros, the rest of Cebu province, Bohol, Surigao del Norte, including Siargao Island and Dinagat province were under Signal No. 1.
Non-government organizations helped in the evacuation of families.
“This storm is heading for a community which is just beginning to recover from last year’s super typhoon,”said Ned Olney, Save the Children’s Country Director for the Philippines. “For children this new emergency has already started. Evacuations, worried parents, suspension of classes will bring back traumatic memories of last year’s typhoon. Our priority now is to help ensure that communities heed the evacuation messages and get out of the storm’s path, while ensuring that our teams are ready to respond to the needs of affected communities afterwards.”
Save the Children’s deployed response teams across the country, while trucks packed with emergency household, shelter and hygiene kits were on standby for distribution to families who may be affected by the typhoon.
“This is the most unpredictable storm I’ve experienced in my career. We urgently need to know where it is going to make landfall so we can reach people affected as quickly as possible. Save the Children will be on the ground as soon as we can to get to people with life-saving aid,” Save the Children’s Emergencies Manager Rommel Sotto said.
“There is a greater sense of urgency this time and this is reflected by how people respond to the news.People are out tying down their roofs, securing their basic necessities and voluntarily leaving their homes to move to safer areas,” Communications Officer Heidi Anicete said,
The Catholic Church in the area also extended help by letting the public use Borongan Bishop Crispin Vasquez’s residence and the cathedral as evacuation centers.
The diocese of Borongan also opened the doors of its churches and seminary to thousands of residents who evacuated from coastal communities.
Fr. Jonas Rebamontan, parish priest of Oras town in Eastern Samar, said around 100 evacuees took shelter at the convent.
Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo appealed to everyone to help one another and pray for the safety of those who will be affected by the typhoon.