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As 'Ramil' heads for RP, govt vows to be ready this time

October 18, 2009 4:47pm
(Updated 9:08 p.m.) As Typhoon Ramil gathers strength, the government intends to avoid repeating the disaster of being ill-prepared. Agencies are setting up evacuation centers, placing health personnel on 24/7 duty, and moving packed goods to northern Luzon, where the storm is expected to make landfall. All hope the storm doesn't live up to its international name, Lupit.

In a coordinated pre-positioning of relief and rescue logistics, government line agencies are bracing for yet another disaster in northernmost Luzon, even as the state weather bureau predicted that Ramil would spare the National Capital Region.

If it makes landfall in the country, "Ramil" would be the third storm to hit Luzon in less than a month. Both Ondoy and Pepeng lost a lot of their wind strength by the time they made landfall but dumped record-setting amounts of rain.

Any storm that would approximate those first two would compound one of the most destructive sequences of disasters in the nation's history, with unprecedented flooding in Metro Manila, towns around Laguna Lake, and major cities in northern Luzon, and dozens of landslides in the Cordillera mountains. Pepeng isolated Baguio City for the first time since the 1990 earthquake; access was re-established last week.

In a media briefing Sunday morning, Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) chief weather forecaster Prisco Nilo said that the new typhoon might hit north Luzon in three days, with sustained winds of 175 kph and gusts of 210 kph.

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, Ramil maintained its strength and stayed stationary off Aparri, Cagayan Sunday afternoon, Pagasa said in its advisory.

Ramil is expected to be 1,200 kms east of Aparri, Cagayan by Monday afternoon. By Tuesday afternoon it is expected to be 830 kms northeast of Aparri, Cagayan or at 980 kms east of Basco, Batanes. By Wednesday afternoon the forecast for the location is 630 kms east of Basco, Batanes.

Blue code alert

Government hospitals in most parts of Luzon went on blue alert Sunday in preparation for the looming disaster. A Code Blue alert means medical personnel will be on duty 24 hours a day, and that hospitals and community health units are prepared to accept an influx of casualties.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) said the Department of Health (DOH) had sent alert memos to six Luzon regions the typhoon threatens to hit, namely Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, Metro Manila and Cordillera.

“DOH... maintained blue alert code with manpower on duty; prepositioned medicines and medical supplies," the NDCC said in its 6 a.m. update, posted on its Website Sunday noon.

In Pangasinan, one of the provinces badly hit by typhoon "Pepeng" last week, all city and municipal mayors had been ordered to prepare possible preemptive or forcible evacuations of families in low-lying areas.

"You are advised to stay alert, be proactive, and to take all precautionary measures to secure your respective constituents and to prevent unnecessary casualties," provincial administrator Raffy Baraan quoted Governor Amado Espino Jr's order in a text message.

Espino had likewise directed all police units in the province to coordinate with their respective mayors as soon as possible.

Quick-response team

On Sunday morning, the Philippine Army said that it has formed a special contingent to respond to possible emergency situations that Ramil might bring in the coming days.

Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr, public affairs chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said that the Army Contingent for Emergency Battalion is composed of about 500 soldiers.

“It was commissioned yesterday (Saturday), binuo nang sa gayon ay makatulong especially in terms of disaster relief (to help especially in terms of disaster relief)," Brawner said in an interview on dzBB radio.

He added that the battalion is currently based in Metro Manila, but would be sent to provinces that Ramil could hit.

The Philippine Navy, on the other hand, said that it has put its forces in Northern, Central and Southern Luzon on red alert status.

Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo said their forces in these areas are ready to pre-position assets and equipment for possible search and rescue operations.

“Naka-red alert na ang Navy since ... kahapon pa (We have been on red alert since Saturday)," Arevalo said in an interview on dzBB radio, adding they have learned some lessons from responding to victims of flooding caused by past cyclones including Ondoy(Ketsana) and Pepeng (Parma).

He said they are particularly waiting for calls to preposition especially in the Cagayan-Aparri area, where Ramil is expected to hit.

But Arevalo admitted that Navy personnel have been strained and their resources are getting thin after the efforts they exerted in the last two cyclones.

“Our resources are getting thin, ang ating mga tauhan napapagod (Our resources are getting thin and our people are getting fatigued)," he said.

But in the meantime, he said they are preparing their equipment and vehicles, including choppers, Islander planes, 18 M-35 trucks, 18 rubber boats, and amphibious vehicles and trucks.

Looming disaster

Ramil is threatening to batter Luzon even as the residents there are still grappling with the deadly aftermath of storm Ondoy which struck on Sept. 26 and triggered the worst flooding in Manila in over 40 years.

Ondoy was followed last Oct. 3 by typhoon "Pepeng,", which lingered for a week, drenching northern mountain provinces and causing landslides that buried many homes.

The two storms killed 773 people and inundated the homes of more than 7 million. Hundreds were still in emergency shelters in landslide-hit Benguet province, 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of the capital, Manila, when news of the new typhoon spread.

About 20 tons of rice, canned sardines and noodles were being packed and will be delivered to far-flung mountain townships in advance in case landslides again cut off transport in Benguet, a gold-mining and vegetable-producing region of more than 300,000 people, disaster-response officer Olive Luces said.

Ramil, which was almost stationary at 1,060 kilometers off the northern Philippine coast, could clip the northern Philippines on Wednesday or veer toward Taiwan. Metropolitan Manila, which enjoyed sunny weather Sunday, will likely be spared, Pagasa said. - AP and GMANews.TV
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