'Don't compare to Sendong'
MANILA, Philippines - Almost at the end of the rainy season, the Philippines is bracing for typhoon "Pablo," expected to be the strongest typhoon of 2012 and forecast to make landfall on Tuesday morning, December 3, in Surigao del Sur.
President Benigno Aquino III on Monday, December 3 called on Filipinos to heed warnings and prepare for serious disaster as Pablo (international codename: Bopha) advances toward eastern Visayas and Mindanao packing sustained winds of 175 km/h and gusts of up to 215 km/h.
Dubbed a "super typhoon" by foreign weather services, the storm is currently located 310 km East of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, where thousands of residents have been told to evacuate before it is too late.
After it makes landfall, Pablo is expected to move West through the Visayas into northern Palawan and exit the country into the South China Sea by Friday.
Pablo 'no joke'
Once criticized for being missing in action in the middle of a big storm, Aquino made it clear that this typhoon is a very serious matter.
"This typhoon is no joke. It packs strong winds and pours heavy rain," he said in Filipino standing beside his cabinet members.
The President advised the public to evacuate immediately even if the weather is sunny and reminded citizens that the diameter of the typhoon is 600 km while they can normally see only 25 km away into the horizon.
"Let us heed their calls immediately, and not wait until their third, fourth, or fourth visit before we transfer to secure location," he stressed.
Aquino detailed that all pertinent government agencies, especially the departments of Social Welfare and Development and Public Works, the Armed Forces, National Police and Coast Guard are ready for Pablo.
He said authorities have been stockpiling food supplies and rescue equipment, with military and coast guard personnel deployed in vulnerable areas amid fears the typhoon could trigger landslides and floods.
Earlier on Monday, the Department of the Interior and Local Government said it has activated monitoring teams in those regions which presumably be the hardest hit by the typhoon.
Storm signal #3 over 10 areas
In its 5pm bulletin, weather bureau PAGASA said that Pablo is maintaining its strength as it threatens Davao Oriental as well as Surigao, while public storm warning signal #3 was raised over a total of 10 high-risk areas.
About 101-185 km/h winds are expected in the next 18 hours over:
- Surigao del Norte including Siargao
- Surigao del Sur
- Agusan del Norte
- Agusan del Sur
- Misamis Oriental
- Davao Oriental
- Compostela Valley
- Davao del Norte including Samal Island
By Tuesday afternoon, the typhoon will be in the vicinity of Cagayan de Oro, while a day later the weather disturbance is expected to be 110 km Southwest of Iloilo City, and 330 km West of Calapan, Oriental Mindoro by Thursday afternoon.
The estimated rainfall within the 600 km diameter of the typhoon is 15-30 mm/h (heavy-intense) and residents living in low-lying and mountainous areas in affected regions are alerted against flash floods and landslides.
PAGASA warned people in coastal areas under storm signals #3 and #2 to expect big waves and storm surges generated by "Pablo."
Fishing boats and other small vessels should not venture out in the eastern seaboards of Mindanao and Visayas.
'Don't compare to Sendong'
A day after he commented that Pablo would be stronger than Sendong, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council executive director Benito Ramos discouraged the media from comparing this typhoon to the tropical storm which killed over 1,470 people and affected over a million other Filipinos in December 2011.
"Let's give a chance for our people to discern (the information). So I will not give them unnecessary alarm," Ramos said.
Sendong sustained maximum sustained winds of 100 km/h while Pablo is packing winds of 175 km/h, based on PAGASA's 5 pm update.
Ramos said mountains in its path – such as Mt Diwata and Mt Diwalwal – could also further weaken the typhoon, which last night was packing stronger winds of 185 km/h.
NDRRMC Operations Center head Edgardo Ollet urged residents who need to evacuate to do so before sunset.
"We need preemptive evacuation while there is sunlight. It is difficult to deploy rescue teams when it is dark, because the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines automatically shuts off power once storm signal #3 is raised," Ollet said in Filipino.
However, some residents don't want to evacuate while the storm has not directly hit their communities, even in Hinatuan, where Pablo will make landfall.
"They're hesitant to leave because it's still sunny and the weather's still warm," said Amado Posas, the Caraga region's operations chief for the Office of Civil Defense.
Almost 8,000 residents have been moved to government shelters in Hinatuan and all schools have been shut along Mindanao's east coast, where sea travel is banned until the typhoon passes.
Strongest storm of 2012
Pablo is the 16th and probably the last typhoon to affect the Philippines in 2012, but it may also be the strongest to hit the country this year.
"This is a powerful storm, perhaps the strongest this year, and we enjoin everyone to take precautionary measures," the NDRRMC chief told AFP on Sunday.
Nearly 100 people died and more than a million were displaced in August by the Habagat floods in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon.
A total of 19 typhoons struck the Philippines last year, leading to more than 1,500 deaths and affecting nearly 10 percent of the total population, according to the government.
The worst calamity was Sendong. - Rappler.com, with reports from Agence France-Presse