CAGAYAN DE ORO (MindaNews/ 2 December)- Private contractors are working round-the-clock to fix a vital Doppler weather tracking station as the country braces for super typhoon ‘Pablo’ (international codename: Bopha) to make landfall, officials said Sunday.
The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) Doppler station in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur has been down for months after it went on line together with other Doppler stations located in Cebu, Subic and Tagaytay.
It is supposed to be part of a string of Doppler stations providing real-time and up-to-the-minute information on wind velocity and rain density. Its data is published on the internet and linked up to other weather stations like the Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
PAGASA weather specialist Annalita Fortich said foreign contractors were trying to fix the Doppler station in time for the arrival of typhoon Pablo, which was expected to landfall in Surigao del Norte or in Hinatuan town on Tuesday.
“They (contractors) are trying to fix it fast. It might be functioning by tonight,” Fortich told members of the Misamis Oriental Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Sunday afternoon.
But Engr. Armen Cuenca, Cagayan de Oro assistant disaster rescue officer, said he tried to browse PAGASA’s Project Noah (http://noah.dost.gov.ph/) early Sunday night but found the Hinatuan Doppler station still not yet on line.
“Because the Doppler station in Hinatuan is not working, Cagayan de Oro and the rest of Northern Mindanao have no idea what is happening. In short we are blind,” Cuenca said.
Local disaster rescue committees in Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental raised the green alert Sunday afternoon as weathermen projected that Pablo would enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility Sunday night.
PAGASA’s hourly update showed that as of 10 p.m. Sunday, Pablo “was located based on satellite and surface data at 810 km Southeast of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur.” At 9 p.m. it was spotted 820 kms; at 8 p.m. it wa 870 kms; at 7 p.m. 880 and at 6 was 920 kms southeast of Hinatuan.
The eye o f typhoon was spotted 970 kms southeast of Hinautan as of 4 p.m. “with maximum sustained winds of 185 kph and gustiness of up to 220 kph. It is forecast to move West Northwest at 22 kph.”
Misamis Oriental Vice Governor Norris Babiera said that municipal mayors in the province have cancelled a planned trip to Manila on Tuesday to be with their constituents.
Heavy equipment and rescue boats have been ordered prepositioned in all town halls starting Monday, he said.
Babiera said that 95 percent of Misamis Oriental’s 3,500-square kilometer land area is prone to landslides and flash floods.
For his part, Cuenca said they have already stocked up on food supplies in anticipation of the evacuation that is expected on Monday night in Cagayan de Oro City.
Eye of the storm
In Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, the town first hit when Sendong made landfall last year, Mayor Candelario Viola Jr. initiated an information drive in all barangays on the impending typhoon as early as Saturday evening, according to Marieta Llanera, program manager of the Center for Empowerment and Resource Development (CERD).
Llanera said residents in dangerous areas, like those in the shorelines, were already told to evacuate to safer places and to stock up on food. Fishermen have been prohibited from sailing into the sea, too.
She said preparations were underway even though weather condition was still calm as of Sunday afternoon in the municipality facing the Pacific Ocean.
Llanera’s group, CERD, was among the few institutions that provided relief efforts in the remote town in the aftermath of Typhoon Sendong.
A total of 214 houses in Hinatuan were destroyed in last year’s typhoon on December 16 and 17. Sendong also toppled trees and electrical posts. Although no resident died, two were injured and four fishermen who set out to sea a few days before the typhoon failed to return to their homes.
Since Hinatuan is considered prone to tsunamis, residents had undergone evacuation drills and actual evacuations in the past. Tsunami warnings have been set up all over town telling residents where to go should threats come.
But Viola, in an interview shortly after Sendong, lamented that before the typhoon hit landfall last year, many residents ignored the warnings.
Worse than ‘Nitang’
In Surigao City, Marilyn Pono, Surigao del Norte Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council officer, said they have tapped the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the local radio stations for the massive information dissemination regarding Pablo, which is expected to be worse than typhoon Nitang that ravaged the city and the province in 1984.
Pono said the PDRRMC also tapped the religious sector to help in the information dissemination.
The Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Councils (MDRRMC) are also in place and are conducting series of meetings to prepare for the storm.
She said the PDRRMC is on a 24-hour monitoring mode on the entire province as well as closely coordinating with the MDRRMCs.
Mindanao Development Authority Sec. LuwalhatiAntonino said in a statement Sunday afternoon that her office is “also on a monitoring mode and will be on standby for support to any major Mindanao-wide and inter-regional coordination of emergency relief and rehabilitation efforts.”
“There is a noted increase in level of preparedness now demonstrated by local disaster response and risk reduction and management councils of local government units in flood-prone areas of Mindanao and we are confident they would be able to carry through any possible emergency scenario,” she said.
Antonino said that a public that is aware “through the help of both traditional and social media,” and government preparedness and coordination with private groups, will be the island-region’s “best defense against this coming typhoon.” (Froilan Gallardo, Bobby Timonera, Cong Corrales and Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)