Around 500,000 residents in Cagayan province and 1,000 families in Isabela province are potentially at risk due to the impacts of super typhoon “Betty,” local disaster officials revealed Saturday, May 27.
(Members of the Philippine Army's Light Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team prepare a rescue boat in Quezon City on May 26, 2023 for possible deployment in areas that will be affected by Super Typhoon Betty. Photo by PA)
Rueli Rapsing, head of the Cagayan provincial disaster risk reduction and management office (PDRRMO), said there are 11 municipalities in the province that were identified as areas of concern since they are “highly susceptible” to storm surges, flood, and rain-induced landslides.
These are Santa Ana, Gonzaga, Santa Teresita, Buguey, Aparri, Ballesteros, Abulug, Pamplona, Sanchez-Mira, Claveria, and the island municipality of Calayan which is just south of Batanes province.
“Ang accounting namin, dalawang distrito na (Based on our accounting, it’s equal to two districts already). That would be around 500 [thousand],” Rapsing said in a radio interview with dzBB when asked how many residents might be affected by the storm surge in the 11 areas of concern.
Meanwhile, five municipalities in Isabela are hounded by perennial flooding since they are located in the downstream of the Cagayan River: Cabagan, San Pablo, Santo Tomas, Santa Maria, and Tumauini.
“Alam naman po natin itong Cagayan River, silted na. Hindi na ito ganoon kalalim at hindi na ganoon kalapad kaya ang capacity ay bumaba. Ang nangyayari, kapag dumami ang tubig sa Cagayan, magbabackflow at ‘yung limang bayan ang naaapektuhan (We know that the Cagayan River is already silted. This is no longer deep and it’s not that wide anymore so its capacity has gone down. If the water in Cagayan increases, it will backflow and the five municipalities are affected),” Isabela PDRRMO head Constante Foronda said.
“Kapag sagad ang pagtaas niya (If the water level would be at its peak), I’d say a thousand families [might be affected],” he added.
As such, the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) urged the local DRRMOs to coordinate with the local government units (LGUs) in conducting the necessary preparations to cushion the impact of Betty, which already entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR).
The center of the eye of super typhoon Betty was estimated to be at 1,170 km east of Central Luzon as of 11 a.m. Saturday, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). It was moving west northwestward at 30 km per hour (kph) while packing maximum sustained winds of 195 kph near the center and gustiness of up to 240 kph.
Diego Agustin Mariano, head of OCD’s joint information center, said a directive for pre-emptive evacuation will be cascaded down to the local chief executives as they are the ones who know the landscape of their communities.
“We give them [freedom] to declare pre-emptive evacuation dahil medyo mahirap mag-evacuate agad (because it’s difficult to evacuate early). ‘Yung iba nakasalalay ‘yung kabuhayan so maraming factors ang tinitignan sa pre-emptive evacuation (Other people’s livelihood are affected so there are a lot of factors needed to consider in conducting pre-emptive evacuation) so we leave it to the LGUs,” Mariano said.
“However, we always aim for zero casualty kasi buhay po lagi ang ating priority (because human lives are always our priority),” he stressed.
The Cagayan PDRRMO raised its response to Red Alert, the highest status, which means that local chief executives can already decide whether or not to conduct pre-emptive evacuation, suspension of classes and work, and banning of liquor.
“We will recommend them to conduct pre-emptive evacuation but it’s up to them to decide on conducting or implementing the recommendations from the PDRRMO based on our PDRA [pre-disaster risk assessment],” Rapsing shared.
In Isabela, the PDRRMO has yet to raise its alert to the highest status but all the rescue and evacuation personnel, equipment, and tools have already been prepared.
“Sa ngayon, hindi pa pero reconfigured na po ang aming kagamitan para sa bagyo lalo na sa pagbaha (Right now, it’s not [red alert] yet but our equipment were already reconfigured for the typhoon especially in responding to flood),” Foronda shared.
“Hindi po kami masyado nag-aalala sa malakas na hangin dahil base sa ulat ng PAGASA, hindi gaanong didikit sa Isabela ang bagyong Betty. Mukhang sa northern tip ng Cagayan, doon siya pinakamalapit pero maaring magdulot ng ulan at baka tumaas ang level ng Cagayan River (We are not that worried about strong winds because according to the report of PAGASA, typhoon Betty will not be close to Isabela. It looks like it will stay in the northern tip of Cagayan but it may cause rains which can raise the water level in Cagayan River),” he added.
At least 34,000 uniformed were alerted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) for typhoon response.
Around 800,000 family food packs were also prepositioned in areas that will be affected by the super typhoon.
Search and rescue equipment including boats, satellite phones and other emergency communication devices, and equipment for clearing operations were also prepared by the OCD in coordination with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), and uniformed personnel.