‘Helen’ Intensifies, May Enhance ‘Habagat’

Tropical storm "Helen" (international name: Kai-tak) slightly intensified as it moves closer toward extreme Northern Luzon yesterday.

Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) Weather Division chief Robert Sawi said "Helen" is forecast to make landfall over the northern tip of Cagayan this morning.

But even before making landfall, "Helen" already claimed its first fatality after Armando V. Borbon, 37, an epileptic from Sitio Pinalapa, Barangay Dumpay, Basista, Pangasinan, died when he fell in a flooded rice field at about 8 a.m. Monday, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) said.

"The storm moved almost westward for the past 12 hours, near the eastern section of Northern Luzon. The eye of 'Helen' is advancing toward the Cagayan area," Sawi said.

PAGASA said "Helen" will enhance the southwest monsoon (hanging habagat) that will bring rains over Luzon and Visayas, especially over the western section.

As of 5 p.m. yesterday, "Helen" was at 230 km east southeast of Tuguegarao City in Cagayan with maximum sustained winds of 85 kph near the eye of the storm, and gustiness of up to 100 kph.

It is forecast to move west-northwest at 12 kph.

Signal No. 2 was hoisted over Cagayan, Calayan Group of Islands, Babuyan Group of Islands, Isabela, Apayao, Kalinga, Ilocos Norte, Abra, and the Batanes Group of Islands.

Areas under Signal No. 1 are Aurora, Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Ifugao, Benguet, Mountain Province, La Union, and Ilocos Sur.

NDRRMC Undersecretary Benito Ramos advised seafarers and fishermen to refrain from traveling in the western and eastern seaboards of Luzon.

Likewise, Ramos advised residents that will be directly affected by possible landslides and flash floods to evacuate ahead of the storm.

"It is safer for you to evacuate than to be rescued afterwards," he added.

Sawi said the active southwest monsoon will continue to bring occasional to frequent rains over the western section of Luzon.

Intermittent light to moderate rains will affect Central and Southern Luzon becoming more frequent moderate to heavy rains over Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Quezon province, Rizal, Bulacan, Pampanga, Laguna, Cavite, Batangas, Mindoro, Bataan, Zambales, Pangasinan, Tarlac, and Metro Manila.

"By Thursday morning, the storm will move toward south of Taiwan, while the habagat will slightly weaken. 'Helen' is forecast to exit the Philippine area of responsibility (PAR) by Thursday morning," he added.

However, Sawi said rains from the southwest monsoon will continue to affect Central and Southern Luzon, including Metro Manila this Thursday.

"Big waves will affect Aurora, Isabela, and Cagayan due to a storm surge," he warned.

PAGASA also warned residents living in low-lying and mountainous areas under public storm warning Signal No. 1 and 2 due to possible flashfloods and landslides.

Sawi said the estimated rainfall amount is 15 to 25 mm per hour or heavy to intense rains within the 500 km diameter of "Helen."

With "Helen" threatening to make landfall, authorities rushed relief supplies to the country's remote north Tuesday in preparation for a new storm, which was also expected to dump heavy rain on other areas struggling with deadly floods.

"We are rushing to pre-position relief items to the northern areas ahead of this storm," Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said.

"We wanted to make sure that we have enough supplies there just in case areas get cut off by landslides or floods."

"Helen" was also forecast to bring heavy rains across the Central and Southern Luzon where 334,000 people remain in evacuation centers following flooding last week that in some farming areas remains waist-deep.

The floods, which submerged 80 percent of Manila, killed 95 people, according to the government.

The government had initially said "Helen" would start dumping up to 35 millimeters (1.3 inches) of rain an hour over large areas of Luzon beginning Monday night, triggering warnings of more mass evacuations from officials.

But as of noon Tuesday parts of Luzon were only experiencing scattered, light rain showers.

Ramos said authorities had begun releasing water from five dams in the mountain regions of Luzon that were near overflowing in anticipation of more rains.

But the "controlled release" was not expected to swamp already swollen river systems and cause more flooding, he said.

Meanwhile, strong winds brought about by "Helen" caused the cancellation of 17 domestic flights yesterday afternoon.

As of 12 noon yesterday, the Media Affairs Division of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport had recorded 15 flights between Manila and the Godofredo Ramos Airport in Caticlan, Aklan, as having been cancelled. A turn-around flight between Manila and Tuguegarao was also cancelled as strong winds battered Northern parts of Northern Luzon.

The cancelled flight between Manila and Caticlan included Cebu Pacific flights 5J895, 5J896, 5J897, 5J898, 5J913, 5J914 and Air Philippines flights 2P035, 2P036, 2P071, 2P072, 2P061, 2P062, 2P075, 2P076 and 2P040.

The cancelled flights between Manila and Tugeugarao were Cebu Pacific flight 5J504 and 5J505.

The management from both airline companies said all affected passengers will be rebooked, free of charge, on the next available flights to the respective destinations as soon as the weather in the area improves. (With reports from Elena L. Aben, AFP, Anjo Perez, Franco G. Regala, and Freddie G. Lazaro)