Typhoon “Ompong,” the country’s 15th tropical cyclone this year, crossed into the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR), some 1,000 kilometers away in the Pacific, at 3 p.m. last Wednesday and has been slowly moving westward toward Luzon. Its winds have been increasingly gaining strength these last few days and it may hit Northern Luzon in full force today.
As it entered PAR last Wednesday, “Ompong” had peak winds of 220 kilometers per hour, gusting up to 270 kph. As it moved westward, its winds were expected to pick up strength and possibly cause storm surges in coastal areas of Cagayan and Isabela.
It was a storm surge seven meters high that hit Leyte and Samar and killed thousands of people when typhoon “Yolanda” struck in 2013. The powerful winds also uprooted trees, knocked down electric posts, and flattened houses.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) warned against a third source of danger with “Ompong” -- the “habagat” monsoon rains at this time of the year which are intensified by approaching storms. The heavy rains could cause landslides, turn rivers into raging torrents of destruction, and flood wide areas of ripening rice.
By some strange coincidence, the East Coast of the United States is now also being menaced by equally powerful Hurricane “Florence” which is moving from the South Atlantic northwestward towards the Carolinas and Virginia, which have issued declarations of emergency. On the other side of the US, tropical storm “Olivia” now threatens Hawaii with storm surges and floods.
As typhoon “Ompong” neared the Philippines, provincial, city, and municipal officials from Northern Luzon to the Bicol region suspended classes, alerted hospitals and law enforcement agencies, mobilized emergency rescue teams, and stocked up on food and other relief goods. Around Mayon Volcano in Albay, an alert was issued against lahar.
We are used to having storms and typhoons throughout the year but “Ompong” is more powerful than most and, with super-typhoon “Yolanda” in mind, the government has warned the general public to be specially vigilant, avoid danger areas like mountain slopes, river banks, and low-lying areas.
Let us all keep this warning in mind as “Ompong” lashes the country today. The previous storms earlier this year all curved northwards and vented their fury on the northern lands of Japan, Korea, and China, while we just suffered from floods. But “Ompong” is headed straight for us and we must be ready for its powerful winds and the storm surge that may come in raging from the sea.