Evacuation effort shifts as typhoon veers to north Philippines
MANILA - Typhoon Mitag changed direction yesterday, prompting disaster officials to shift evacuation efforts to the northeastern Philippines, as other areas prepared to be drenched by the powerful storm.
The typhoon's new northerly course appeared to spare the more populous Bicol region in the eastern Philippines, where more than 250,000 people have fled their homes.
Vietnam also got good news, when another typhoon headed there weakened and was downgraded to a tropical storm.
Typhoon Mitag veered toward the northeastern Philippine provinces of Aurora and Isabela early yesterday after earlier appearing headed for Bicol, chief government forecaster Nathaniel Cruz said.
Mitag had sustained winds of more than 100 miles per hour with gusts of 130 miles per hour, and forecasters across the region said it could become a super typhoon - with wind speeds of 138 miles per hour - by the time it makes landfall.
The typhoon was "almost stationary" yesterday about 100 miles east-northeast of the island province of Catanduanes and could make landfall in the Aurora-Isabela area tomorrow - a day later than earlier predicted because of its slow movement from the Philippine Sea.
Forecasters also warned of storm surges and a rise in the sea level in areas directly affected by the typhoon, and said heavy rains and strong winds should be expected across the country.
Authorities urged tens of thousands of people living in areas at risk in Aurora and Isabela to flee immediately.
"Let us not wait for tomorrow because that may be too late," Aurora Governor Bellaflor Angara Castillo said in a radio interview.
Up to 54,000 people would have to be removed from coastal and flood-prone areas in Isabela province, Governor Grace Padaca told President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during a National Disaster Council meeting broadcast live on local television.
The military declared a unilateral cease-fire yesterday with communist rebels in the affected areas so that troops could focus on disaster preparedness, armed forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bartolome Bacarro said.
Typhoon Hagibis, which weakened to a tropical storm a day earlier, veered away from Vietnam yesterday. Forecasters said the storm, which killed 13 people in the Philippines nearly a week ago, would linger in the South China Sea and remained a threat to shipping in the area.
Lieutenant Armand Balilo, a Philippine Coast Guard spokesman, said Chinese sailors were still searching for 26 Filipino fishermen whose boat capsized in the South China Sea on Friday. Authorities earlier reported that 25 fishermen were missing.
Vietnamese soldiers, police, and border guards began helping nearly 200,000 evacuees return to their homes yesterday after Hagibis changed course. Vietnam has been battered by six major storms this season.
Storms regularly hit the Philippines, and officials are trying to avoid a repeat of last year's disastrous Typhoon Durian, which killed 1,200 people and left 120,000 homeless when it swept through Bicol.
"What is particular about this is that these areas have been hit regularly for the last year," said Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippines National Red Cross.
"We just finished constructing 12,300 homes that were demolished," Gordon told reporters in Geneva, where he is attending talks at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, according to Reuters.