MANILA, Philippines - Typhoon “Juan,” the 10th and strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year, slammed into northern Luzon shortly before noon yesterday, cutting off power, forcing the cancellation of flights and leaving one person dead and 20 injured as of late afternoon.
At least 5,000 families were evacuated, according to disaster officials.
Juan (international code name “Megi”) put the region’s rice crop at risk and set off massive emergency preparations, which could have explained the low casualty figure.
“We have declared a state of calamity in Isabela. Cagayan may follow but it has yet to be decided by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan,” Benito Ramos, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said.
The Philippine Coast Guard said a certain Josue Duque drowned while swimming in Ilocos Sur while fisherman Vicente Decena disappeared and remained missing after he was swept away by strong waves in the Cagayan River in Barangay Namabbalan Norte, Tuguegarao.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said Juan made landfall in Sierra Madre’s Estagno Point in Divilacan Peak in Isabela shortly before noon.
Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Seair, and Airphil Express cancelled flights to and from the affected areas.
“We expect it to weaken and slow down after slamming into the mountains,” Mario Palafox, Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) forecaster, told reporters, saying the typhoon’s eye had shrunk to about 50 kilometers but is expected to bring more rain and stronger winds.
Andrew Villacorta, Department of Agriculture regional executive director, said Cagayan Valley accounted for 12 percent of national rice output, or about one million tons of unmilled rice, lower than earlier estimates from local officials.
“Isabela and Cagayan are expected to be hit hard,” Villacorta said. “Our estimates showed about 159,000 metric tons will be lost from Isabela. About 88,000 hectares will be affected. In Cagayan province, about 43,000 hectares will be affected. The estimated loss will be around 63,000 metric tons,” he said.
He said just over one-third of the crop had been harvested, while about 90 percent of the corn crop had been harvested. Last year, the country lost 1.3 million tons of paddy rice following three strong typhoons in September and October, prompting it to go to the market early to boost its rice stocks.
“This could bring destruction to our crops,” Val Perdido, a regional farm official, told reporters.
“It’s the peak of harvest season now. More than 230,000 hectares of rice fields are still in their reproductive and maturing stages,” he said.
Agricultural production makes up a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Ramos said in a radio interview that more than 3,000 people had been evacuated in Cagayan.
Officials have warned of rough seas and the risk of flash flooding, storm surges and landslides.
Metro Manila was generally left unscathed.
President Aquino earlier ordered the taking down of billboards in Metro Manila as a precaution against strong winds.
Pagasa’s Aldzar Aurelio said Juan weakened after smashing against land and a high-pressure area northwest of the country.
As of 5 p.m. yesterday, storm warning signal No. 3 remained hoisted over Cagayan, Isabela, Apayao, Kalinga, Ifugao, Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Benguet, Mountain Province, Abra, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte and La Union.
Signal No. 2 was up in Batanes, Babuyan and Calayan Group, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Aurora and Tarlac.
Signal No. 1, meanwhile, was raised over Zambales, Pampanga, Bataan, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, Northern Quezon, including Polillo Island, Batangas and Metro Manila.
As of press time, Juan, packing winds of 180 kph and gustiness of up to 215 kph, was battering the Cordilleras.
Juan was expected to exit along the western coast of La Union-Ilocos Sur and move toward the South China Sea at 11 p.m. yesterday.
Aurelio said Juan was expected to move out of the Philippine area of responsibility this afternoon.
Vicente Manalo, Pagasa weather specialist, called Juan a “well-behaved” tropical cyclone.
“In terms of its track, it follows the normal track of tropical cyclones during the month of October,” Manalo said in a press briefing.
He said based on meteorological data, strong typhoons usually hit the Philippines in the last quarter of the year.
Pagasa deputy administrator Nathaniel Servando said the La Niña phenomenon was likely to bring more powerful typhoons to the country this year.
Juan is expected to be at 440 km west southwest of Tuguegarao City or at 330 km west northwest of Baguio City this afternoon. By Wednesday afternoon, it is expected at 760 kms west northwest of Baguio City.
The typhoon’s severe damage to crops prompted Gov. Faustino Dy to place Isabela province under a state of calamity.
Juan toppled electric posts, uprooted trees and tore off the roofs of several houses.
“We could not determine the damage yet. We’re still assessing the damages,” Ramos said.
A child in Sta. Ana was reported to have suffered minor wounds after being hit by a live wire that snapped due to strong winds.
In the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), the NDRRMC reported that landslides swamped the Benguet-Daluppirip-Itogon and the Nueva Vizcaya-Benguet roads.
Landslides also rendered the Claveria-Calansan road in Apayao impassable as well as part of the highway near the boundary of Calanan and Calaan in Mountain Province.
Meanwhile, water level at the Angat Dam reached 180.66 meters above sea level (masl), which is still below the ideal 210 masl, the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) said.
Vicente Paragas, executive director of the NWRB – an attached agency of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – said the dam’s water level should reach 210 masl by December to ensure adequate water supply next year.
He said the current level is enough to provide for irrigation and for Metro Manila’s water needs in the next four months.
“Our monitoring has been continuous. We are coordinating with Pagasa as to weather updates,” Paragas said.
Angat Dam’s water elevation dropped to a record low of 157.54 masl last July 14 due to El Niño.
San Roque Dam’s water level barely improved despite Juan’s rains because it had to discharge water for its power operations.
Virgilio Garcia, hydrologist of the San Roque Dam, said water level was 250.63 masl or slightly lower than the previous day’s 250.78 masl. The spilling level of San Roque Dam is 280 masl.
President Aquino was a no-show at the NDRRMC briefing at Camp Aguinaldo but his officials said his presence was not necessary.
“The directives are quite simple: Prepare ourselves for the eventuality that when the storm comes, everybody is prepared, ready and with alertness, and just for them to do their jobs,” Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., who presided over the meeting, said referring to concerned officials.
“That’s the best we can do now and everyone should be well-motivated to really perform the assigned tasks that were given to them, that all agencies, members of this risk reduction committee, are already on-hand and well-prepared for any eventuality,” he added.
“There’s no more need (for him to be here) because everybody is prepared anyway. I’m here and I was instructed to represent him and to see to it that everything is in place,” Ochoa said.
Malacañang issued Memorandum Circular 4 suspending government operations in Regions I, II, and in CAR except in agencies “whose functions involve the delivery of basic health services, preparedness/response to disasters and calamities and/or the performance of other vital services.”
Ochoa also assured the public that the Aquino administration was prepared for the worst, better than it was during “Basyang,” the first storm during his presidency. Mr. Aquino fired Pagasa’s Prisco Nilo after Basyang.
“We are better prepared, everybody is conscious about their jobs and everybody’s hoping that the support of this government is there. I think we’re better prepared than during Basyang,” he said.
For his part, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Mr. Aquino’s schedule yesterday was “full,” and that he was in other equally important meetings, including that of the anti-poverty cluster.
“As you very well know, the anti-poverty cluster and poverty alleviation is one of the centerpiece programs of the government. That’s the reason why when he was told by Secretary Voltaire Gazmin of the preparations, he decided not to attend anymore,” he said.
Lacierda rejected insinuations that Aquino considered the meeting insignificant. “A big national event, yes, it is an important event. But, again, if you notice, the preparations are all ongoing,” he said.
“The preparations have been done since Saturday so the necessary preparations are on track and upon the briefing of the Secretary of National Defense, we’re on track,” Lacierda stressed.
Present at the conference were Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, Presidential Management Staff chief Julia Abad, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, Health Secretary Enrique Ona, Energy Secretary Rene Almendras, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Francis Tolentino, Science Undersecretary Graciano Yumul, Trade Undersecretary Zenaida Maglaya, Philippine National Police Director General Raul Bacalzo, Bureau of Fire Protection chief Rolando Bandilla and Armed Forces vice chief Lt. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu.
Helen Flores, Philippine Star