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More than 10 million Filipinos could be affected if and when Typhoon Mangkhut, known locally as ‘Ompong’, hits the archipelagic country’s main northern island on Saturday.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) announced that the typhoon has entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility and will threaten Northern Luzon.
PAGASA said Typhoon Ompong will be the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year. As of 4am on Thursday, the typhoon was 855 kilometers east of Virac, Cantanduanes province packing maximum sustained winds up to 205 kilometers per hour and 255 kph gusts.
Typhoon Ompong may become a super typhoon before it hits Cagayan province on Saturday, the report said. PAGASA classifies a cyclone with at least 220 kph top winds as a super typhoon.
A Signal No 1 warning has been raised in 16 areas of the country, namely Cagayan, Isabela, Kalinga, Mountain Province, Ifugao, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Aurora, Quezon (including Polillo Island), Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Catanduanes, Burias and Ticao islands and Northern Samar.
Officials have ordered precautionary evacuations and closures of schools and offices, and urged farmers to quickly harvest their crops to reduce damage in the northern region, the Associated Press reported.
With a massive rain band estimated at 900 kilometers, combined with seasonal monsoon rains, the storm could bring especially intense rains that could set off landslides and flash floods, Philippine state forecaster Meno Mendoza told reporters.
“I’m stressing that this one is very different, this is more complicated because of possible storm surges,” Cagayan governor Manuel Mamba told AP, referring to giant waves that could whipped inland by the typhoon.
Typhoon Mangkhut’s ferocity is being compared to that a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane. Its high winds and torrential rains could cause widespread damage to islands and coastal areas, local Red Cross officials have said. It will also enhance the southwest monsoon (Habagat), bringing potentially ruinous rain to Central Luzon, which is home to most of the country’s productive agricultural land.
Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippines Red Cross, said: “We’re worried for the 10 million people in the Philippines living in the path of this destructive storm, including those who have been displaced several times due to the monsoon rains last July and August. We are preparing our emergency assets and relief items. Our staff and volunteers are on high alert for possible deployment.”
Red Cross emergency response teams, search-and-rescue teams, plus water, sanitation and health units, and community volunteers in Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, and Manila are on standby. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in the Philippines is on alert to support response efforts.
The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 typhoons each year, with many leading to severe damage, deaths and displacement. The worst typhoon to hit the country was in November 2013, when super typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, killed more than 7,350 people across the center of the country.