Thousands flee homes as Typhoon Ompong batters northern Luzon

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 14) — Typhoon Ompong has forced the evacuation of thousands of residents in Northern Luzon as it roars closer to land.

As of 4 p.m., 13,000 individuals fled their homes in the province of Cagayan alone, where the strong typhoon may make landfall on Saturday morning.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) projects over 800,000 individuals may need to be evacuated to ensure their safety when the typhoon batters their areas. It said a total of 9,107 individuals or over 2,000 families have been evacuated as of 6 a.m. on Friday.

Many areas in Luzon, including Cagayan and Ilocos Norte have experienced heavy rains starting Friday afternoon.

 

Signal No. 4 has been raised over Cagayan and northern Isabela which have a population of over 2.7 million.

This storm signal means winds of more than 185 kilometers per hour (kph) – may uproot large trees and could severely damage houses and buildings. 

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said Ompong may damage over 1.2 million hectares of rice and corn fields. He said as much as ₱7.9 billion worth of rice and ₱3.1 billion worth of corn may be lost in a "worst case scenario."

The typhoon has been disrupting travel since it entered the Philippines on Wednesday. A total 29 domestic and international flights were called off on Friday.

The Philippine Coast Guard said over 4,500 passengers were stranded in ports as of noon.

Some cities and municipalities across the country have also announced class and work suspensions.

How strong is Ompong?

Typhoon Ompong, which has an international name of Magkhut, has maintained its strength throughout Friday. It has maximum winds of 205 kph, and gustiness of up to 255 kph.

But the PAGASA weather bureau does not rule out the possibility of Ompong becoming stronger, or developing into a super typhoon.

Images from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration revealed that Ompong is packing "powerful storms" surrounding its eye.

"It's quite strong, because based on the data of PAGASA on sustained winds comparing it to Milenyo, Glenda which we experienced, and comparing it to Yolanda, only Yolanda beats it in terms of sustained winds," Dr. Mahar Lagmay of the University of the Philippines told CNN Philippines

Yolanda hit the country in 2013, packing winds as strong as 315 kilometers per hour (kph) - and it was the strongest typhoon to ever hit the country to date. Ompong, on the other hand, has 205 kph sustained winds.

Lagmay reminded it is not the typhoon itself which endangers lives, but its associated hazards: the strong winds which can topple trees and tear off roofs, and the heavy rainfall which can lead to floods.

Malacañang has assured that the country is ready for the onslaught of Typhoon Ompong as President Rodrigo Duterte led the NDRRMC's command conference on Thursday. He also sent his Cabinet secretaries to areas along Ompong's path.