MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte led a conference on Thursday to ensure that the country is prepared for the powerful typhoon heading toward it.
Authorities started the evacuation of thousands of residents in coastal and landslide-prone areas ahead of the arrival of typhoon Mangkhut (local name Ompong), described as the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines so far this year.
The state weather bureau said Mangkhut, which is expected to make landfall over Cagayan-Isabela province early on Saturday, has a diameter of 900 km, can reach peak intensity of around 220 kph maximum sustained winds and gusts of up to 270 kph.
At the command conference the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported that an estimated 4.3 million individuals are exposed within the 250 km radius of the storm.
Many of these people will probably be evacuated, NDRRMC Undersecretary Ricardo Jalad said, noting that 800,000 of the population are living in poverty. Within this corridor, some 47,000 houses are made of light materials.
Officials emphasized the need for evacuation in coastal areas as they warned that Mangkhut may generate a storm surge of up to 6 meters high. Fishermen and those with small sea craft were also advised not to venture to sea.
The NDRRMC said that rapid deployment teams are on standby for possible rescue operations, while local government units (LGUs) are enjoined to prepare their own contingency plans.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines has put eight teams on alert. The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) also placed some of their personnel and vessels on standby for deployment to conduct sea search and rescue operation if needed.
In the same conference, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol reported the projected effect of the typhoon on agriculture.
According to Piñol, some 1,220,000 hectares of rice and corn alone will be affected by, which may result to losses in rice amounting to about P3.6 billion ($66.7 million). In worst case scenario, the losses in rice may reach up to P7.9 billion.
Estimated damage in corn is P2.7 billion, and in worst case scenario P3 billion.
In spite of this, Piñol assured Duterte there will still be a sufficient supply of rice. He added they have likewise advised farmers to harvest crops that are ready. The agriculture department will also position hauling trucks for animal evacuation.
Meanwhile, the president stressed the need for constant communication between government agencies and to prepare for any eventuality in times of crisis. “In a crisis you have to reckon with the Murphy’s Law. We have estimates and we have the projections, the reckonings and all but it ain’t there until it is there,” Duterte said.
He then suggested the use of one dedicated radio channel for all government agencies, including the defense department, and another for the military and police for central communications, as he pointed out that cellular networks can breakdown during disasters.