Communities in the northern Philippines have boarded up their homes as thousands voluntarily evacuated while officials brought in emergency supplies on Friday in preparation for Typhoon Mangkhut.
President Rodrigo Duterte sent five of his cabinet officers to coordinate efforts in areas expected to be hit by Mangkhut, described as a potential super typhoon that could rival Suerptyphoon Haiyan five years ago.
Mangkhut, with maximum winds of 205 kph (127 mph) near the center, was moving westward at 20 kph (12.4 mph). It is expected to make landfall Saturday morning in Isabela, a less populated part of northern Luzon island where the capital Manila is based.
Of particular worry is the potential widespread damage it could cause to the country’s agriculture sector that lies within its 900-kilometer (56-mile) diameter.
Duterte on Thursday met with his disaster relief officials to prepare for the storm. In addition to the senior officials, the military and police have been on full alert in anticipation of any emergency.
The military has placed aircraft that could be deployed to provide humanitarian assistance to the area on standby.
Duterte said he was prepared to appeal for help from the international community, though at the moment he did not see the need to do so.
“If it flattens everything, maybe we need to have some help,” he said. "It's too early to speculate."
The storm, he said, was expected to bring plenty of rain and flood farms.
“For us, our plants would be hit. I really do not know how much water would be pouring down in the Philippines at that time,” Duterte said. “In terms of area, this is huge, and quite dark (in the forecast models). So it’s precipitation, it’s water.”
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the storm would likely affect 1.2 million hectares (2.9 million acres) of farmland planted to rice and corn. In the worst-case scenario, he said staple crops with an estimated value of 3.1 billion pesos (U.S. $57 million) could be lost.
A BenarNews team traveled to populated areas in the north on Friday and reported heavy rains in some parts of Tuguegarao city. Thousands have been evacuated to government shelters, away from rivers and the coast.
“We haven’t seen a typhoon this powerful hit the Philippines in some time,” said Alfredo Muyot, Philippine head of the group Save the Children.
“We’re particularly concerned about children and families living in coastal and low-lying communities, which are set to face ferocious winds, heavy rainfall and flooding, as well as the risk of storm surge,” Muyot said.
He urged families living in the path of the storm to take shelter in evacuation centers, stressing that Mangkhut could potentially cause “large-scale damage.”
“We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Once the storm passes, our team will work with local authorities and other aid agencies to assess the scale of devastation caused by the typhoon and determine what the needs are of those affected,” Muyot said.
Maria Rosario Felizco, Philippine director of charitable organization Oxfam, said authorities and first responders were concerned about potential landslides and flooding.
“Ompong is also projected to bring heavy rain over western Luzon, and we are concerned about the communities still dealing with the aftermath of the storm-enhanced southwest monsoon rains from July to August,” she said using the Filipino name for Mangkhut.
The Philippines sits on a typhoon belt and endures up to 20 storms a year, some of them devastating.
In 2012, more than a thousand people died as Typhoon Bohpa swept across eastern Mindanao bringing with it winds gusting up to 200 kph (124 mph). A year earlier, more than 600 died when typhoon Washi slammed into the southern island.
In November 2013, Supertyphoon Haiyan hit the Philippines with devastating power. It left at least 6,300 people dead and scores missing. With winds of up to 235 kph (146 mph), Haiyan blew away homes and triggered massive flooding.
Five years later, many areas in the central Philippines are suffering from its long-term effects.