Karl Romano and Jeoffrey Maitem
Dagupan and Cotabato, Philippines
With Typhoon Mangkhut packing winds of up to 205 kilometers per hour (127.3 mph) as it churned towards the Philippines on Wednesday, the government placed all disaster relief officials in the north on high alert for potential heavy damage.
Mangkhut, which Philippine officials were describing as a potential super typhoon, was also sustaining gusts of as strong as 255 kph (158.4 mph) and was forecast more than 1,000 km off the town of Guiuan, on the country’s eastern seaboard.
“This is by far the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year. Let us prepare for this,” said Renato Solidum, the undersecretary of the government’s Department of Science and Technology..
Mangkhut’s eye was expected to veer northward and not pass directly over land, officials said. The remote island of Batanes on the country’s northern tip was forecast to the bear the brunt of the storm.
The storm is so powerful that it could create water surges as high as six meters (19.6 feet) in coastal areas along its forecast path in Cagayan and Isabella provinces, Solidum said.
In Manila, National Police chief Oscar Albayalde said he was placing all units based on northern Luzon Island on full alert status and to make them available for possible disaster response operations, effective at 6 a.m. Thursday.
“We are calling our people in affected areas to stay safe, alert, and informed and heed the orders of authorities, particularly for preemptive evacuation that may be enforced,” he said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the national government had allocated standby funds and prepositioned food packs in areas that were expected to be heavily hit by the coming storm.
“As I speak, there is an ongoing pre-disaster risk assessment meeting now to ensure the orchestrated response of the government to typhoon Mangkhut,” Roque said.
Guiuan, in the central Philippines, incidentally was the entry point of Supertyphoon Haiyan, which slammed into the country five years ago and left more than 6,300 people dead, in what was considered the strongest tropical storm in the world to make landfall.
At its strongest, Haiyan whipped up winds of up to 230 kph (142.9 mph). The typhoon cut through the country, causing severe flooding. The city of Tacloban bore the brunt of that typhoon, as storm surges triggered by Haiyan flooded the populated area.
On Wednesday, residents of areas where Typhoon Mangkhut was expected to wreak havoc were reminded to prepare emergency rations, including flash lights, radios, batteries, food and water. And those living in low-lying areas were asked to relocate temporarily to safer grounds, Roque said.
“Be ready, prepare drinking water and canned goods. Those living in coastal areas, be aware when evacuation is necessary,” the presidential spokesman said.
Meanwhile, the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System, a cooperation framework between the United Nations, the European Commission and disaster management agencies worldwide, said more than 43 million people in the Philippines could be affected by wind speeds of cyclone strength or above.
The Philippines sits on a typhoon belt and endures up to 20 storms a year, some of them devastating. While the public are largely taught preparations, the yearly floods and storms still cause deadly damage.
In 2012, more than a thousand people died as Typhoon Bohpa swept across eastern Mindanao with monster winds gusting up to 200 kph (124 mph). A year earlier, more than 600 died when typhoon Washi slammed into the southern island.
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