TUGUEGARAO: Typhoon Mangkhut retained its ferocious strength, gained speed and shifted slightly towards more densely populated coastal provinces on Friday as it barrelled closer to the northeastern Philippines, where a massive evacuation was underway.
More than five million people are at risk from the storm, which the Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Centre categorises as a super typhoon with powerful winds and gusts equivalent to a category 5 Atlantic hurricane.
The typhoon was initially expected to hit the northern tip of Cagayan province early Saturday, but it is now likely to make landfall farther south near the middle of the rice-producing province. From there, Mangkhut is forecast to blow across the sparsely populated mountain province of Apayao and then over Ilocos Norte province before exiting into the sea Saturday night, state forecaster Rene Paciente said.
With a huge raincloud band 900 kilometres wide, combined with seasonal monsoon rains, the typhoon could bring heavy to intense rain that could set off landslides and flash floods. Storm warnings have been raised in almost all the provinces across the main northern island of Luzon, including the capital, Manila, restricting sea and air travel.
Mangkhut was tracked late on Friday about 190 kilometres away in the Pacific with sustained winds of 205 kilometres per hour and gusts of up to 255 kph (158 mph), forecasters said. They said the fast-moving typhoon has gained speed as it moves northwestward at 30 kph (19 mph).
Even if the typhoon weakens slightly after slamming ashore, its winds will remain very destructive, Paciente said.
“It can lift cars, you can’t stand, you can’t even crawl against that wind,” Paciente said at a news conference in Manila.
In Cagayan’s capital city of Tuguegarao, residents braced for the typhoon’s fury by reinforcing homes and buildings and stocking up on food.
“It was busy earlier in the hardware store and people were buying wood, nails, tin wire, plywood and umbrellas,” said Benjamin Banez, who owns a three-story hotel where workers were busy hammering up wooden boards to protect glass panels.
A super typhoon wrought heavy damage to Banez’s hotel and the rest of Cagayan in 2016. “We’re praying that there will be less damage this time, although we know that this one will be very strong,” Banez said.
Ninia Grace Abedes abandoned her bamboo hut and hauled her four children to a school building serving as an emergency shelter. The 33-year-old laundrywoman said the 2016 typhoon blew away their hut, which they abandoned before the storm hit.
“If we didn’t, all of us would be dead,” Abedes said.
More than 15,300 people had been evacuated in northern provinces by Friday afternoon, the Office of Civil Defence said.
Concerns over massive storm surges that could be whipped inland by the typhoon’s winds prompted wardens to move 143 detainees from a jail in Cagayan’s Aparri town to nearby towns, officials said.
The typhoon is approaching at the start of the rice and corn harvesting season in Cagayan, a major agricultural producer, and farmers were scrambling to save what they could of their crops, Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said. The threat to agriculture comes as the Philippines tries to cope with rice shortages.
Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2018