Manila, July 24, 2003 (Star) The death toll from super typhoon "Harurot" rose to 17 as it swept out of the country toward Hong Kong yesterday.

President Arroyo vowed government assistance to typhoon victims through the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC).

"The NDCC will extend assistance to them, and others affected, through the proper agencies and in coordination with local government units," she said.

"Our disaster mitigation measures are up and ready but I ask the people to buttress their own community measures. I sympathize with the victims of the latest typhoon."

Mrs. Arroyo has instructed the NDCC to strengthen local disaster management councils as they are the first line of defense during calamities, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said yesterday.

Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. asked Mrs. Arroyo yesterday to release P134 million to buy seeds for damaged rice and corn fields in Northern Luzon.

"I submitted a memo to the President requesting for total emergency budget for DA to the tune of P134 million for seeds, P128 million for corn and P9.5 million for rice seed," he said.

Lorenzo said 83,335 of corn fields in Isabela or 50 percent of the region’s corn production may have been wiped out by the super typhoon.

However, rice fields may not have been affected because they were still in the "vegetative stage," he added.

Harurot’s eye was plotted 430 kilometers west of Laoag City in Ilocos Norte at 10 a.m. yesterday, moving northwest at 22 kilometers per hour (kph) toward Hong Kong, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said yesterday.

PAGASA said the typhoon had weakened with sustained winds of 130 kph.

A total of 3,206 houses were damaged when Harurot unleashed its fury in six regions nationwide, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said yesterday.

Disaster relief officials said six people were killed in Northern Luzon and the Visayas, including five crushed by a falling tree on Romblon.

About 11,000 people remained at government-run evacuation centers, mostly in Mindanao, disaster relief official Melchor Rosales said.

A blackout paralyzed the entire Cagayan Valley as Harurot toppled electric posts and damaged many power cables.

Officials of electric cooperatives said it would take at least a week before power could be restored throughout the region.

Thousands of commuters were stranded after landslides blocked a stretch of the national highway from Caranglaan, Nueva Ecija to Dalton Pass, the gateway to Cagayan Valley.

However, light vehicles were allowed to pass yesterday after the Department of Public Works and Highways had repaired one of the lanes.

Public works officials said "restoration operations" of the Dalton Pass-Caranglaan stretch would last until tomorrow.

The national highway was still littered with fallen trees, power cables and downed electric posts as of yesterday.

Cagayan Valley was virtually isolated from the rest of Luzon after a span of the coastal Patapat Bridge in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte was reportedly damaged.

Baguio City and Benguet province remained without electric power since Tuesday noon after trees fell on power lines, as strong winds battered the Cordilleras yesterday and last night.

The Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) said power will be restored today. Almost P10 million worth of crops were destroyed in Northern Benguet, the country’s salad bowl.

Classes in all levels in the Cordilleras remained suspended, the Department of Education announced over a local radio station. All major arteries to Baguio except Kennon Road have been reopened to public transport, although authorities are exerting efforts to clear roads of fallen trees and boulders.

In Ilocos Norte, a 57-year-old woman died after a tree fell on her yesterday as strong winds pounded the coastal barangay of Pagudpud, about 60 kilometers from Laoag City. The fatality was identified as Lorena Pagurayan.

In Ilocos Sur, a tricycle driver was seriously injured after a tree fell on his tricycle as he was traveling on a road in Vigan City. However, the passengers of Arnold Gascon, 22, were not injured.

In Bicol, the coast guard was still searching for four missing fishermen in Catanduanes and Albay. Commander Avelino Fortuna, Bicol Coast Guard district deputy director, said frogmen have been looking for Edwin Sea of Barangay Sugod in Tiwi, Albay, Dominador Frondoso and Manuel Duran of Caramoran, Catanduanes, and Jobie Barcasio of Barangay Magnesia in Virac, Catanduanes.

"I have ordered our station commander in these areas to find them," he said.

Eight fishermen aboard the fishing boat Frank Mary, who were reported missing in Mercedes, Camarines Norte Monday, were rescued by other fishermen last Tuesday, he added.

In Central Luzon, at least 60 barangays in eight towns in Pampanga and 150 barangays in Bulacan, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Zambales and Bataan remain flooded as of yesterday afternoon.

Rivers rising

In Tarlac, retired Brig. Gen. Virgilio Florendo, executive officer of the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council, said portions of the Camiling and Batacan rivers in San Clemente town have started to rise to critical levels at dawn Tuesday.

The two rivers are major catchbasins for floodwaters cascading down the slopes of the northern end of Central Luzon’s western mountain ranges, which flow into Pangasinan’s waterways before going out to the South China Sea.

Gov. Jose Yap Sr. said he has been informed that the O’Donnell River in Capas and the Sacobia River in Bamban, as well as the Rio Chico and Lucong river in La Paz and Concepcion have been rising to above-normal levels.

Bartolome Fajardo, provincial agriculture chief, said 18,227 hectares of planted ricefields have gone underwater.

Ten mango trees were fallen and 170 hills of banana plantations were swept away by strong winds, he added.

Florendo said Yap has ordered the closure to light vehicles of a portion of Romulo Highway in Barangay Surgui in Camiling because of floodwaters from the Camiling River.

The national road connects Tarlac to Pangasinan’s southwestern end, he added. Florendo said the Tarlac-Sta. Rosa Road was also closed to light vehicles Tuesday morning as the water level of Rio Chico continued to rise. It is Tarlac’s link to Nueva Ecija, he added.

In Isabela, Harurot left damages to property and crops estimated at P500 million. More than 1,000 families, especially those living near the tributaries of the Cagayan River have been evacuated to safer ground.

Isabela’s capital Santiago City was the hardest hit, and authorities have placed at P55 million damages to property and crops.

Harurot has virtually isolated Santiago City from the rest of the province, as electric power was cut and communication lines bogged down.

Automated teller machines were not available and banks and government offices were closed.

No tricycles were plying the streets, which were strewn with broken glass, busted electric wires, branches of trees and other debris. The city’s two radio stations –dwSI and an ABS-CBN branch –also went off the air. Santiago City Mayor Jose Miranda said he will ask the Sangguniang Panglungsod to declare the city under a state of calamity.

In Pangasinan, strong winds fell the branches of centuries-old mango trees along the Urdaneta-Sta.Barbara Road Tuesday. No one was reported injured or killed. Radio reports said the towns of Labrador, Bugallon, Umingan, Aguilar, San Fabian and Tayug were flooded because of heavy rains the other day.

A portion of the Tapuac-Lucao Road in Dagupan City also became unpassable to vehicles.

Strong winds also left several towns without electric power. Damages to crops were not immediately known.

In Mindanao, local officials said the southern tail of Harurot caused heavy rains and flashfloods from Sunday to Tuesday, drowning 11 people in the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat.

Maguindanao provincial administrator Norie Unas said many of the dead were elderly people in rural areas who were taken by surprise by the flashfloods. — Marichu Villanueva, Felix delos Santos, Charlie Lagasca, Lito Salatan, Artemio Dumlao, Sheila Crisostomo, Teddy Molina, Ric Sapnu, James Mananghaya, Benjie Villa, Celso Amo, Cesar Ramirez, Sandy Araneta, Jose Aravilla

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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