(UPDATE 3) RP braces for 'Pepeng'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 30 2009 05:19 PM | Updated as of Oct 01 2009 08:01 PM

Typhoon gains strength, seen to target Northern Luzon


PAGASA-DOST MTSAT-EIR Satellite Image issued 11 p.m., 30 Sept. 2009


MANILA - Survivors of tropical storm Ondoy (international code name Ketsana) were told to "prepare and pray" on Wednesday as a new typhoon threatened to bring more devastation to the country.

Weather bureau PAGASA reported that typhoon Pepeng (international code name Parma), which has entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility at around Wednesday afternoon, has gained more strength as it moves in the general direction of northern Luzon.

In the 11 p.m. PAGASA Severe Weather Bulletin, Pepeng was spotted 750 kilometers east of Guiuan, Eastern Samar, with maximum sustained winds of 130 kilometers per hour near the center and gustiness of up to 160 kph.

Pepeng is forecast to move west northwest at 26 kph, and is expected to be 440 km east of Virac, Catanduanes by Thursday evening.

PAGASA expects the typhoon to be 250 km north northeast of Virac or 270 km east of Casiguran, Aurora by Friday evening, and 270 km north of Casiguran or 80 km east northeast of Aparri, Cagayan, by Saturday evening.

No public storm warning signals have been raised yet.

This disturbance is still too far to affect any part of the country within the next 24 hours, the PAGASA bulletin said.

"The public and the disaster coordinating councils concerned are advised to take appropriate actions and watch for the next bulletin to be issued at 11 A.M. tomorrow (Thursday)," the bulletin said.

'Be prepared and alert'

"What we need now is to be prepared and alert," chief government forecaster Prisco Nilo told radio dzRH in an interview.

Asked if the typhoon could be as devastating as Ondoy, which caught everyone in the Philippines by surprise with its ferocity on Saturday, Nilo said it was possible.

"At the moment, it is over the sea. We should prepare and pray now just in case."

The Japan Meteorological Agency meanwhile forecast the weather disturbance to strengthen by Oct. 1 to have maximum sustained winds of 166 kph near the center and maximum gusts of 250 kph.

Authorities pleaded with people in low-lying areas throughout Manila, a sprawling city of 12 million people, and surrounding areas to find higher ground before the storm hit, and many were heeding the warnings.

In Landayan village in Laguna province, south of Manila, hundreds of residents scrambled to flee their homes that were already covered in neck-deep water from Saturday's record deluge.

"We heard that another storm is coming," they shouted at a group of news photographers who reached the devastated area.

The residents tied plastic drums together into makeshift rafts where they loaded furniture, refrigerators, beds and chairs, among other things.

They pushed the rafts to shallow areas where the cargo could be unloaded and carried to evacuation camps.

'We are not taking any chances'

However, in the flood-ravaged Manila suburb of Marikina, Lito Sone, 50, was leading his wife and son away from an evacuation center in search of a safer place to ride out the typhoon.

"We are going to look for our relatives and stay with them. It's been three days in the evacuation centre but with the storm coming we are not taking any chances," said Lito, who was carrying a television.

The looming typhoon came at the worst possible time for Philippine authorities, who have repeatedly admitted to being overwhelmed by the scale of the relief effort facing them following the weekend disaster.

A team from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the police on Wednesday went around Metro Manila to pinpoint areas that can be turned into evacuation centers as the Philippines braces for the typhoon.

National Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said DILG Undersecretary Melchor Rosales and Metro Manila police director Chief Superintendent Leopoldo Bataoil will visit the five districts of Metro Manila to coordinate with local officials.

Teodoro said the inspection is part of the government's preparation for Tropical Storm Parma, which was getting closer to the country.

"They will go around Metro Manila to make sure that the evacuation centers that would be used, if needed in case a new weather disturbance arrives, are in safe and identified places," he said in a briefing at the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.

2.25 million people affected

He said that even if the new storm, which will be known locally as "Pepeng," does not directly hit Metro Manila, it may still affect the government's relief and recovery efforts in areas devastated by "Ondoy".

"Ondoy" affected 2.25 million people, mostly in Metro Manila, based on the NDCC's report as of 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Teodoro said a total of 389,616 people were housed in 561 evacuation centers and 346,581 more are staying in "host families." Nearly 250 people have been confirmed killed by the storm.

The defense secretary said the government decided to move some evacuees to other temporary shelters to make sure that all evacuation centers are being properly utilized.

He said the consolidation effort freed 40 evacuation centers, which can be used by more people in case another storm hits the country.

Overwhelmed, caught by surprise

International aid has started to trickle in after the Philippines issued an appeal for aid, but the amount of work has simply been too much for relief workers, Philippine Red Cross secretary general Gwendolyn Pang said.

"Rehabilitation and relief has been slow," Pang added. "We have been overwhelmed, caught by surprise."

There was some good news on Wednesday when the United States announced it would send soldiers and heavy equipment to help in the relief effort.

US Ambassador Kristie Kenney said part of a planned joint military exercise between US and Philippine forces planned for October would instead be transformed into a flood aid operation.

Kenney gave no numbers on how many US soldiers would be deployed, but about 900 US troops usually participate in such exercises. -- With reports from the Agence France-Presse