Tropical Storm Agaton strands Holy Week travelers
MANILA, Philippines — More than a thousand passengers were stranded after the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) canceled boat trips beginning Saturday due to Tropical Storm Agaton (international name: Megi), which intensified upon making landfall in Eastern Samar on Sunday morning.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said the storm had maximum sustained winds of 75 kilometers per hour and gustiness of up to 105 kph. Earlier it had maximum sustained winds of 65 kph and gustiness of up to 80 kph.
As of noon on Sunday, the PCG said it monitored more than 200 stranded passengers and cargo vessels in Eastern and Central Visayas, particularly Liloan Port Ferry Terminal in Cebu and Port of San Ricardo in Southern Leyte.
In the Bicol Region, 503 passengers were stranded in Matnog port in Sorsogon province.
Gremil Alexis Naz, spokesperson for the Office of Civil Defense in the region, said 473 rolling cargos and a vessel were also stranded.
Most of the passengers and vehicles were on their way to Samar.
Earlier in the day, PCG Station Sorsogon suspended all trips to Samar, Biliran, Leyte, Southern Leyte and Camotes Islands.
The PCG, however, did not suspend boat trips bound for the island provinces of Catanduanes and Masbate from the mainland ports in Albay and Sorsogon.
The PCG said most of the stranded travelers were going home to their provinces for the Holy Week, as it monitored a total of 13,640 outbound and 10,421 inbound passengers in all ports nationwide on Sunday.
All PCG units were placed on heightened alert for the duration of the holidays, with almost 2,000 front-line personnel in 15 districts having inspected a total of 156 vessels and 193 motor bancas.
The PCG commandant, Adm. Artemio Abu, said in a statement: “I instructed district commanders to be present on the ground and oversee the implementation of maximum security measures. They are also responsible for supervising the conduct of regular port monitoring and coastal security patrol in major tourist destinations.”
He said he had also ordered intensified vessel inspection to ensure the seaworthiness of all passenger vessels, including the availability of life jackets and other lifesaving equipment on board, as well as proper documents before issuance of clearance to depart.
Abu appealed to the public to be patient during the predeparture inspection and ensure that they had all documentary requirements requested by the local governments in their destinations to avoid delays.
He further advised travelers to be at the port terminals at least three hours before their scheduled departure to give ample time for safety and security checks and predeparture inspections onboard the vessels.
PCG districts have dispatched additional lifeguards to help resort owners and the local governments achieve zero casualties during the holidays, Abu said.
On Saturday morning, a cargo vessel capsized in the sea off Ormoc City, Leyte province, after it encountered big waves and strong winds.
Initial reports from the PCG in Ormoc said the MV Celsa 2 was about to leave for Cebu City at 10 a.m. when the 395.53 tonnage vessel capsized.
It had yet to be determined, as of this writing, how many crew members were in the vessel.
Meanwhile, officials in Tacloban said the disaster risk reduction and management office would be operating daily under the city’s “blue alert” emergency status, while the social welfare and development office was also ordered to prepare all evacuation centers.
In the towns of Merida and Leyte, at least 23 barangays were without electricity after heavy rains and strong winds disrupted their power supply.
In Maasin City near the southernmost tip of Leyte island, Mayor Nacional Mercado called off work and classes on Monday.
Three other villages in Southern Leyte were affected by landslides over the weekend but nobody was hurt, according to a report by the Department of Public Works and Highways.
In western Samar, three people were rescued after their motorized banca sank in the waters off Barangay Botaera in the town of Zumarraga town on Saturday afternoon.
Stephanie Doblon, 29; Gabina Vudlong, 62; and Rey Doblon, 38, came from Daram Island, also in the province, when their boat was battered by heavy rains.
The rains also destroyed a bridge in Barangay Cagusuan in Homonhon Island at the southernmost tip of Samar Island.
Mayor Annaliza Gonzales Kwan of Guiuan town in Eastern Samar suspended work and classes on Monday, including in Homonhon, which is under Guiuan’s jurisdiction.
In Cebu, some 200 passengers were stranded in different ports since Saturday evening, and most of them decided to return home by Sunday.
The Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Western Visayas placed the region under red alert.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau said around 4,000 barangays in the region could be affected by floods and landslides due to the rains.
Agaton continued to move slowly westward over the coastal waters off Balangiga, Eastern Samar.
Tropical Cyclone Wind Signal No. 2 was hoisted in central and southern portions of Eastern Samar (Can-Avid, Taft, Sulat, San Julian, Borongan City, Maydolong, Balangkayan, Llorente, Balangiga, Lawaan, Hernani, General Macarthur, Quinapondan, Giporlos, Salcedo, Mercedes, Guiuan), the central and southern portions of Samar (Catbalogan City, Jiabong, Motiong, Paranas, Hinabangan, Calbiga, San Sebastian, Villareal, Pinabacdao, Santa Rita, Basey, Talalora, Daram, Zumarraga, Marabut) and the northeastern portion of Leyte (Babatngon, San Miguel, Barugo, Tunga, Alangalang, Tacloban City, Santa Fe, Pastrana, Palo, Tanauan, Tolosa, Dulag, Mayorga).
Signal No. 1 was raised in the rest of Eastern Samar, Samar, Northern Samar, Biliran, Leyte, Southern Leyte, and the northern portion of Cebu (Borbon, Tabogon, San Remigio, Bogo City, Medellin, Daanbantayan, Bantayan Islands) including Camotes Islands.
According to updates on Sunday afternoon, the storm was forecast “to move erratically or remain almost stationary” over the eastern portion of Leyte and the southern portion of Samar Island and its coastal waters from Sunday to early Tuesday.
The PCG monitored a total of 1,419 passengers, drivers and cargo helpers, 951 rolling cargos and 10 vessels stranded; and 71 vessels and six motor bancas taking shelter in Eastern Visayas, Bicol and Northeastern Mindanao.
Agaton is expected to interact with Tropical Storm “Malakas,” a tropical cyclone outside the Philippine area of responsibility, by mid-Tuesday, Pagasa said.
—WITH REPORTS FROM JOEY GABIETA, JOHN NOEL E. HERRERA, DALE ISRAEL, MICHAEL JAUCIAN, FRANCES MANGOSING AND MA. APRIL MIER-MANJARES
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