By Ellalyn de Vera Ruiz and Francis Wakefield
At least 21 areas were placed under Signal No. 1 as tropical depression “Usman” aims for Eastern Visayas before the weekend.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) raised on Thursday tropical cyclone warning Signal No. 1 over Romblon, Catanduanes, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Masbate, Ticao and Burias Islands, Eastern Samar, Northern Samar, Samar, Biliran, Leyte, Southern Leyte, northern part of Cebu, Camotes Islands, Aklan, Capiz, northern part of Iloilo, northern Negros Occidental, and Dinagat Island.
PAGASA weather specialist Raymond Ordinario said Usman is still far from land but its advanced clouds are already bringing moderate to heavy rains over Dinagat Island, Bicol, and Eastern Visayas on Thursday.
Usman was located at 450 kilometers (km) east of Surigao City in Surigao del Norte or 440 km east-southeast of Guiuan, Eastern Samar around noon. It is moving west at 15 kilometers per hour (kph). So far, Usman has maximum sustained winds of 55 kph and gustiness of up to 65 kph.
Ordinario said Usman may further intensify into a tropical storm with maximum wind speed of 62 to 88 kph before its expected landfall over Eastern Samar on Friday afternoon.
PAGASA is also likely to raise Signal No. 1 over Camarines Norte, southern part of Quezon, Marinduque, southern part of Oriental Mindoro, Antique, the rest of Iloilo, and Guimaras within Thursday. Sea travel will no longer be allowed once Signal No. 1 has been raised.
This Friday, moderate to heavy rains will prevail over the Visayas, Bicol, Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Quezon. Expect also a “wet” weekend for those in Southern Luzon and some parts of Metro Manila due to Usman, Ordinario said.
Should the cyclone maintain its current track, he said Usman may traverse the northern parts of Leyte, Panay Island, Sulu Sea, and Palawan towards the West Philippine Sea.
PAGASA advised residents in areas that will be directly affected by the cyclone, especially those living near river channels, and low-lying and mountainous areas to take appropriate measures, coordinate with local disaster risk reduction and management offices, and continue monitoring for updates.
PAGASA hydrologist Richard Orendain said they have already issued a general flood advisory in Regions 8 and 13 (Eastern Visayas and Caraga). The weather bureau may also issue a general flood bulletin in Regions 5 and 4A (Bicol and Calabarzon) within Thursday, he added.
Likewise, PAGASA warned fisherfolk and those with small sea crafts not to venture out over the seaboards of areas under Signal No. 1, as well as the northern and western seaboards of Northern Luzon and the eastern seaboard of Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur due to the approaching tropical Depression and the surge of the northeast monsoon or “amihan.”
Water levels of dams
PAGASA is also monitoring the water levels of major dams in Luzon, especially Angat Dam in Bulacan, which is already just two meters short of its spilling level.
Currently, Angat Dam’s level is at 210.07 meters, or less than 2 meters below its spilling level at 212 meters. About 75 millimeters (mm) of rainfall is needed to reach the 212-meter maximum level of Angat Dam, and based on PAGASA’s forecast, Usman could bring 140-mm of rainfall over the Angat watershed.
Orendain said dam authorities may not release water yet, taking into consideration the lower amount of rainfall in January. However, PAGASA and the National Water Resources Board will further discuss whether or not there is a need to release water from the Angat Dam.
By Friday morning, Usman is expected at 120 km east of Guiuan, Eastern Samar, and by Saturday morning at 50 km north-northeast of Cuyo Island in Palawan.
Usman may exit the country’s area of responsibility between Sunday evening and Monday morning.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) on Thursday raised its alert status from White to Blue due to Tropical Depression “Usman.”
NDRRMC Executive Director and Office of Civil Defense (OCD) Administrator Undersecretary Ricardo B. Jalad said a Pre-Disaster Risk Assessment (PDRA) meeting was held Wednesday led by Dr. Fernando De Villa, with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Officer-in-Charge Undersecretary for Disaster Response Management Group, Dir. Edgar Posadas, the OCD’s Director for Operations, and representatives from NDRRMC member-agencies such as the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (DOST-PAGASA), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), and DOH in attendance.
The OCD Regional Offices in Regions 5, 6, 7, 8, National Capital Region, MIMAROPA (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, Palawan) and CARAGA, also joined the meeting.
He said that among the preparedness measures being undertaken by NDRRMC member-agencies is the issuance of warning and advisories to LGUs by the DILG.
Posadas, meanwhile, emphasized the need to warn LGUs in the landslide-prone areas such as Quezon, Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Sorsogon, Aklan, Antique, Eastern Samar and Northern Samar, to ensure that preparedness measures are in place.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has a total stockpile and standby funds composed of food and non-food items worth P1.2 billion ready for distribution to areas that will be affected by tropical depression “Usman.”
Overall, the DSWD has total stockpiles and standby funds amounting to P1,279,393,332, broken down into 404,948 family food packs amounting to P144,875,074.92 and available food and non-food Items amounting to P919,900,075.91 ready for distribution to affected areas.
DSWD Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Glenda Relova said “even though it is the holiday season, the DSWD workforce is prepared to handle the effects of tropical depression Usman.”
“We have enough prepositioned goods to be immediately distributed to affected areas, should the need arises,” she added.
The quick response teams in the different field offices of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) along the path of the weather disturbance are now activated for disaster operations in their respective areas.
In Bicol Region where the effect of the tropical depression was felt on Thursday, DSWD-Region 5 reported that there are 6,323 food packs available at its warehouse in Bogtong, Legazpi City.
Likewise, DSWD-Region 5 has also allocated 27,337 family food packs and 37,600 pieces of malong to be distributed to the provinces of Albay, Camarines Sur, Sorsogon, Camarines Norte, and Catanduanes as augmentation assistance, when necessary.
Eastern Visayas braces for ‘Usman’
In Tacloban City it was reported that local disaster councils all over Eastern Visayas were on full alert Thursday for tropical depression Usman.
After a pre-disaster risk assessment on Wednesday, the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Council ordered emergency operation centers to start round-the-clock operations and placed emergency response teams on standby.
Early Thursday, the Philippine Coast Guard cancelled sea trips in the region, leaving 1,287 passengers stranded in Eastern Visayas and Dinagat Islands.
It also appealed to fishermen not to venture out to sea.
The Coast Guard also reported that 87 rolling cargoes, 11 vessels and five pumpboats were stranded in eight ports.
As Usman edged nearer, the Department of Tourism (DOT) advised tourists in Eastern Visayas to refrain from engaging in outdoor and water-based activities.
Among the activities DOT mentioned are boating, swimming, snorkeling, trekking, mountain climbing, and zip line rides. (With a report from Tonette Marticio)