Philippines braces for typhoon over Easter

National disaster agency officials advise the public to take care as an approaching typhoon heads to the Philippines over the Easter holidays.

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (APRIL 2, 2015) (REUTERS) – The Philippines issued warnings of possible landslides and storm surges, with typhoon Maysak set to strike eastern coastal areas, where many resorts are located, over the Easter weekend.

Maysak, initially a top-rated category 5 typhoon, has weakened to category 4 as it lost strength over the water. It is expected to further lose strength as it hits the mountains of northeastern Philippines on Saturday or Sunday, the weather bureau said.

But authorities are concerned foreign and Filipino tourists spending the long Easter weekend on the beaches along the eastern coasts of the main Luzon island may ignore warnings. The typhoon is expected to make landfall within 72 hours. The Easter holidays began on Thursday in the Philippines.

“We want to emphasize that this typhoon will bring big waves which our surfers really like, but this is a typhoon we are facing, even if we say it may be turning from typhoon to storm intensity, the waves will be strong and it will be dangerous for our fellowmen in the eastern coasts of Luzon Island,” Esperanza Cayanan, an officer at the weather bureau, said in a news briefing.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has ordered government agencies, including the coastguard and military, to be on high alert and provide immediate assistance for any possible damage caused by the typhoon.

“We are preparing measures to clear major roads, particularly for our citizens and tourists coming from northern and central Luzon, and the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) have deployed equipment in case there may be landslides, so the Department of Public Works are ready to clear these to ensure the clear movement of goods and services,” said Austere Panadero, the Undersecretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government.

Officials of Aurora province northeast of Manila estimate about 10,000 tourists were expected to troop to its Baler Bay, a popular spot for surfers.

Storm surges 3 to 4 meters high were expected along eastern coasts, Cayanan said.

Maysak, packing winds of 175 kms per hour (109 miles per hour) near the center and gusts of up to 210 kph, entered Philippine territory late on Wednesday.

The typhoon was spotted 995 kms (618 miles) east of Catarman in Northern Samar province southeast of Manila before noon of Thursday, and was moving northwest at 19 kph.

Heavy rainfall was expected within a radius of 150 to 200 km (93 to 124 miles) from the eye of the storm, Cayanan said.

The typhoon could damage rice and corn crops in central and northern areas of the Philippines, although damage is likely to be minimal as the major harvest of the national staple rice was finished around February.

About 20 major typhoons pass through the Philippines yearly, and the storms have become fiercer in recent years. After Haiyan, a category 5 typhoon that struck in November 2013, the toll of dead and missing ran to nearly 8,000 people.