Storm 'Pablo' could become supertyphoon

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Weather forecasters fear an approaching storm, which is expected to enter Philippine area of responsibility tomorrow morning, would turn into a supertyphoon even stronger than the destructive "Sendong" that hit the same threatened area of the country last year.

"In terms of rainfall and wind strength, Typhoon "Bopha" (to be renamed "Pablo" when it enters the country's area of responsibility) has the potential to be stronger than Sendong," said Nathaniel Servando, head of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa). He was referring to the storm that killed hundreds of residents of Cagayan de Oro and Iligian cities in December 2011.

"This new storm [Pablo] can be very destructive," Servando said by phone, adding that it was moving in the same direction as Sendong.

Disaster response authorities have ordered local disaster units to prepare to evacuate residents living by rivers and in low-lying areas in Eastern Visayas and eastern Mindanao that may bear the brunt of the storm.

The storm was monitored at 730 kilometres east of southern Philippines yesterday morning, moving west at 20 kilometres per hour.

Already it was packing maximum sustained winds of 165 kph. "Considering that it's still far from the Philippine area of responsibility, it can still grow much stronger," Servando said.

"Unless it changes direction, this storm appears headed for the same areas in northern Mindanao that Sendong hit," he added.

"By the time it arrives, it may have become as strong as that," he said when asked if the typhoon could reach wind strength of 210 kph, which US meteorologists classify as a "superstorm".

As of yesterday, Bopha had a diameter of 400-500 kilometres. Sendong spanned about 600 kilometres, Servando said.

Servando said disaster officials were right to make early preparations for the storm, which is expected to make landfall either in the northeastern parts of Mindanao or northern Samar on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning.

He said Pablo could bring the same devastation as Sendong, including landslides and flash floods that buried thousands of homes across northern Mindanao on December 16 and 17, 2011.

Sendong left more than 1,200 people dead and destroyed 1.3 billion peso (US$100 million) in agriculture and property.

Residents were largely unprepared as typhoons rarely hit Mindanao unlike Luzon and the Visayas.

Asked what the chances were the storm would veer from its projected path, Servando said: "Almost all our models show it moving in a west northwest direction. But there have been occasions in the past when a storm suddenly changed direction."

The weather bureau said the storm was still too far away to affect any part of the country "within the next two days". Even so, Pagasa advised disaster managers to be on the alert.

In its weather outlook for yesterday, Pagasa said the Bicol region, Eastern Visayas and Mindanao will have partly cloudy skies with isolated brief rain showers or thunderstorms. Metro Manila and the rest of the country will experience fair weather, it said.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council has put local disaster response teams on alert.

Council's Executive Director Benito Ramos said yesterday he had requested that even cockpit arenas not be used starting next week so they could serve as emergency evacuation centres aside from gymnasiums, schools and churches.

"Wag muna magsabong [Postpone the cockfights]," Ramos said.

"This is a strong [storm]. I hope it melts so that we would have a nice Christmas. But the problem is this is a strong one, that's why we have been preparing for it since [Friday]," Ramos said in Filipino.

Ramos said Sendong killed thousands because it entered at night and caught local residents off guard.

To ensure that such a tragedy would not be repeated, Ramos said the local disaster risk reduction management councils of affected regions in the Visayas and Mindanao have met to prepare evacuation and relief plans.

"Our local responders are ready," Ramos said.

With a report from Nikko Dizon

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