Manila, July 23, 2003 (Star) Living true to its name, super typhoon "Harurot" ripped through northern Luzon yesterday packing winds of nearly 200 kilometers per hour and claimed the lives of at least six people.

The strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines since 1998, with storm warning signal No. 4 raised over some areas, also left at least nine people injured and 11 others missing.

The typhoon knocked out power in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon, caused massive flooding and forced the suspension of classes. Government workers were sent home at past noon in Metro Manila.

Local flights were cancelled and several international flights were delayed when power went out at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Four high school students and a driver on a tricycle were killed and nine pedestrians injured when strong winds toppled a tree in the farming town of San Agustin on the island of Romblon, Mayor Lourdes Madrona said.

Police identified the tricycle driver as Eleandro Orencio, 32. His four passengers, all students of Bacawan National High School, were identified as Clarissa Esbeg, 14; Eric Salazar, 15; Jodelyn de la Vega, 15; and Chona Mortel, 16.

The tricycle was cruising along the national road in Barangay Buli when strong winds toppled a huge buli tree, killing Orencio and his passengers.

Police described the tree as 1.5 meters in diameter and 30 feet to 40 feet tall.

The injured pedestrians were identified as Jeffrey Manzo, 14; Dennis Salvador, 15; Jose Orencio, 15; Erwin Martos, 15; Maria Fe Mapalad, 15; Eldie Salazar, 15; Jason Orencio, 15; Gladys Manalon, 14; and Emelyn Bautista, 16, all studying at Bacawan National High School. They were brought to the San Agustin District Hospital for treatment.

Orencio, his passengers and the injured passers-by are residents of Barangay Hinugusan in San Agustin.

A child was also reported to have drowned in Sultan Kudarat in southern Maguindanao, where flooding was reported, according to the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC).

Flash floods hit 14 barangays in 25 municipalities in Maguindanao, forcing the evacuation of 2,250 families. Several electric poles were also toppled by the typhoon in Cotabato City.

One person was reported missing after bad weather capsized a boat off the western island of Palawan on Sunday, the local coast guard chief, Captain Reynaldo Trajano said.

At least 10 fishermen were reported missing in the provinces of Camarines Norte, Albay and Catanduanes.

Eight of the fishermen, who remain unidentified, were reported missing off San Miguel Bay near the town of Mercedes in Camarines Norte, said Jason Aragon, an operations officer of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) based in Legazpi City.

Edwin Cea, a fisherman from Barangay Sogod in the town of Tiwi, was also reported missing by his relatives when he did not return from fishing off the Albay Gulf. Still another unidentified fisherman was reported missing since Monday from Caramoran, Catanduanes, the OCD said.

Naval District Commander for Bicol Avelino Fortuna said he already ordered search and rescue operations for the missing fishermen.

Meanwhile, Navy personnel rescued 42 crewmembers of a fishing boat that sank in the waters off Palawan last Friday. One crewmember has been reported missing.

The fishing boat Maria Ellen sank four nautical miles off Cabuli island after it accidentally hit an unlighted oil rig in the vicinity of the Malampaya Gas Power Project.

The 42 crewmembers of the boat were rescued with the help of F/B Vochokoi, which happened to be in the area when the accident happened.

The highest level of a four-stage storm alert was raised yesterday over the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela and northern Aurora.

The whole Cagayan Valley region — Cagayan, Isabela, Quirino and Nueva Vizcaya — was blacked out since yesterday morning after the typhoon damaged cables and toppled electric poles.

Communications facilities in several towns in Isabela were also damaged by the typhoon.

The Nueva Vizcaya-Benguet Road through Ambuklao Dam was closed to vehicles due to the risk of landslides and the swelling of the Santa Cruz river in Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya and Bangao river in Bokod, Benguet.

A 230-member medical mission led by Isabela Gov. Faustino Dy was stranded in Palanan, Isabela due to the typhoon. The members of the mission have been in the town’s coastal area since Sunday.

The Magat Dam in Ramon, Isabela reached its critical level yesterday morning. Irrigation officials said that excess water may have to be released from the dam, should heavy rains continue, to prevent floods from inundating nearby towns.

Officials of the Regional Disaster Coordinating Council have already set up evacuation areas for the residents in the coastal areas of Cagayan and Isabela, as well as the flood-prone areas of Quirino and Nueva Vizcaya, who have been advised to move to safer ground.

Minimal flooding, no traffic jams

Manila Mayor Lito Atienza said yesterday that the typhoon caused "minimal flooding" in the city, but added that rescue and relief teams are on standby. Storm Signal No. 1 was raised over Manila and the rest of Central Luzon.

Atienza also said that only thirty families at Isla Puting Bato in Tondo required evacuation to safer ground.

In a related development, Atienza called for the rehabilitation of the breakwater along Manila Bay to protect areas along the city’s coastline from big waves.

"The breakwater has deteriorated through the years and is not anymore effective in breaking the waves headed for the shoreline when there is a typhoon, especially during high tide," he said, adding that waves sometimes reached two stories high.

Classes at all levels were suspended due to strong winds and rain that disrupted the power supply.

By noon yesterday, Malacañang suspended work in government offices.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said it will closely monitor flood-prone areas in the metropolis.

"Monitoring will be continuous. So far, we were told the typhoon situation is not yet critical in Metro Manila," Cesar Lacuna, MMDA deputy chairman and concurrent chief of the flood control program, told The STAR.

Lacuna said flooding was reported at the corner of EDSA and Taft Avenue Extension in Pasay City and McKinley Road in Makati — both flood-prone areas — but these quickly subsided and did not cause any major traffic jams.

The MMDA also kept a close watch on the Pasig River, as its waters rose to a critical level yesterday.

The agency also monitored billboards along major thoroughfares in the metropolis, which could be blown onto the road by strong winds. Several billboards made of tarpaulin were damaged by the typhoon yesterday.

"We have to be able to quickly remove any debris from billboards to avoid accidents on the roads," Lacuna said.

Heavy rains, strong winds, and intermittent power outages forced the Light Rail Transit Line 1, which runs from Baclaran to Monumento, to halt its operations for almost two hours yesterday.

The rail line’s service interruption, from 11:50 a.m. to 1:40 p.m., stranded hundreds of people who were hoping to avoid the traffic jams and knee-deep floods in several parts of Metro Manila.

The Western Police District (WPD) Tactical Operations Center, however, recorded that there were no reports of flooding in Manila and that the traffic situation in many parts of the city was light to moderate.

At the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, power interruptions affected x-ray machines, conveyors and the aerobridge — which connects the aircraft to the terminal for passengers to walk through — causing inconvenience to passengers and risks to security.

It took almost 30 minutes before the power generator was able to restore electricity in NAIA. The generator, owned by a contractor called Power Gen, supplies electricity to the entire airport complex during power outages.

Manila International Airport Authority general manager Edgardo Manda said they plan to have their system upgraded to improve the power supply within the airport complex. This upgrade is estimated to cost about P200 million.

"The problem here is first, security in the x-ray areas, and second, handling of the people entering the airport terminals," he said.

Manda added that a power generator must be able to provide electricity within seconds after electricity is cut off, since there is a risk that criminal elements might be able to bring bombs or other contraband inside airport terminals while the x-ray machines are not functioning.

At least 12 domestic flights were cancelled due to the typhoon. Some international flights were delayed but none were cancelled.

In Quezon City, four large trees fell and a waiting shed collapsed due to high winds. There were no casualties. Thousands stranded at ports

At least 2,445 people were stranded at sea ports in Bicol and nearby central islands after their ships were barred from sailing. Some bus passengers were also stranded.

Alex Cruz, Southern Luzon manager of the Philippine Ports Authority, said that some 790 passengers remained stranded in Matnog and 250 in Bulan, both in Sorsogon. At least 550 were stranded at the port in Tabaco, Albay, 400 in Masbate and 30 in Virac, Catanduanes.

The OCD-Bicol reported that 425 passengers were also stranded at the port in Pilar, Sorsogon.

Classes were suspended across the Bicol Region, where typhoon Signal No. 2 was raised.

Meanwhile, all disaster relief units of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) were placed on "ready alert" yesterday to provide immediate search, rescue and relief assistance to people affected by the typhoon.

Air Force personnel and military vehicles were also placed on standby alert, ready to evacuate affected people to safer ground, ferry stranded passengers and deliver relief goods to typhoon victims.

Engineering personnel of the PAF are also ready to conduct operations to clear roads of fallen trees and electric posts, as well as damaged billboards, that may pose a hazard.

Harurot struck Palanan, Isabela at 10 a.m. yesterday and was moving inland, the weather bureau said. Storm alerts were also raised in 22 other northern provinces, where coastal areas would be "rough to very rough and extremely dangerous to all types" of vessels, according to the weather bureau.

As of 4 p.m. yesterday, the weather bureau said Harurot weakened considerably after passing over the mountain ranges of Sierra Madre and Cordillera.

It is forecast to rake across four Luzon provinces before exiting into the sea off the northern city of Laoag early today. By Thursday afternoon, it is expected to be in the vicinity of Hainan, southern China.

Harurot has peak winds of 190 kph and gusts of 230 kilometers kph.

Typhoon Zeb, the last typhoon given a level-four warning in the Philippines, reached "super typhoon" status in October 1998 with sustained winds of 240 kph and gusts up to 295 kph. Zeb ravaged Luzon’s northern region, killing at least 74 people and destroying tobacco, rice and vegetable crops.

It was quickly followed by typhoon Babs, which killed at least 189 people in the country.

Authorities warned residents of low-lying areas and near mountain slopes to be on alert for floods and landslides, as well as coastal flooding in Luzon’s east cost. The Red Cross said uprooted trees blocked relief convoys going to the Palanan area.

About 20 storms and typhoons hit the Philippines annually. — Arnell Ozaeta, Cet Dematera, Nikko Dizon, Rene Alviar, Celso Amo, Charlie Lagasca, Lito Salatan, Felix delos Santos, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Rainier Allan Ronda, Sandy Araneta, Katherine Andraneda, Mike Frialde, AFP, and AP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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