CEBU, Philippines — With two large luggage in tow, one of which filled with Christmas gifts, Tomasita Migullas, 65, and her niece left home for the Cebu City port area early afternoon yesterday to supposedly take the trip to Surigao City.
Their excitement was, however, replaced with disappointment after learning that their 7 p.m. trip had been cancelled.
Had their trip been greenlighted, Migullas and her niece were supposed to arrive in Surigao early morning today. From there, they were supposed to catch the first fast craft trip to their hometown of General Luna in Siargao Island, some two hours from mainland Surigao.
They would have been home just in time for the Christmas eve. The gifts they have bought and wrapped for their relatives would have arrived on time.
Sadly, tropical depression Ursula had caught up on them.
A few hours after Ursula entered the Philippine area of responsibility yesterday, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) placed Siargao Island, Dinagat Islands, parts of Cebu, and parts of Eastern Visayas under Tropical Cyclone Warning Signal No. 1.
Another announcement quickly followed from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) barring any type of sea vessel from travelling to and from the ports of Cebu City and other affected areas.
It was a declaration any homebound traveler like Migullas would not want to hear two days before Christmas.
“Andam na gajud ang tanang regalo. Gusto na ko makakita sa akong mga apo, sa akong pamilya. Pero was na tay mahimo. Motuman nalang ta kaysa magbasol (All the gifts are ready. I’m longing to see my grandchildren, my family. But there’s nothing we can do. We’re bound to follow rather than regret later),” she told The FREEMAN.
Not home for christmas
Migullas was among the about 2,000 passengers stranded as of yesterday in different ports in Cebu and Bohol after the cancellation of sea trips.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Michael John Encina, spokesperson of the PCG in Central Visayas, expected the number to rise further as more would be accounted for.
Based on PCG data as of 2 p.m. yesterday, some 2,610 passengers were reported stranded in Cebu and Bohol after more than 100 passenger vessels, rolling cargoes, and motorboats were prevented from sailing.
The data did not include passengers who were stranded in the ports of Sorsogon, Masbate, and Ticao Island in Luzon and Dinagat Islands and Siargao Island, which were also placed under TCWS No. 1.
PCG advised homebound travelers to wait until afternoon of December 25 or morning of December 26, when weather conditions are expected to clear up, before they catch their respective sea trips.
“Ang encouragement natin sa mga kababayan natin na nais magbiyahe sa ngayon, papunta at palabas ng Cebu, kung maari po ay ‘wag niyo na ituloy. Ipagpaliban natin until 25 ng hapon or 26 early in the morning para maging safe and secure,” Encina said.
Passengers who have already bought tickets are expected to either be refunded or be put on priority list once the trip suspensions are lifted.
Neil Sanchez, head of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO), said that the entire Cebu province has been put on red alert.
This means that local disaster risk reduction and management officers in the towns and cities should be on a heightened status and get ready for immediate disaster response when needed.
Sanchez added that his office has been touching base with the LDRRMOs since Saturday.
As of 12 p.m. yesterday, no preemptive evacuations have been conducted in Cebu.
However, Sanchez said that LDRRMOs are aware that preemptive evacuations are part of the standard operating procedures. Thus, these measures may be implemented in landslide-prone areas, flood-prone areas and coastal areas vulnerable to storm surges as the need arises.
Sanchez said preemptive evacuations are expected to begin today.
Ursula, the 21st tropical cyclone to cross the country this year, is expected to be located today at 260 km east of Guiuan, Eastern Samar.
It is moving west northwest at 30 kph with maximum sustained winds of 75 kph near the center and gustiness of up to 90 kph.
By Wednesday morning, it is expected at 45 km west northwest of Roxas City, Capiz and at 255 km west northwest of Coron, Palawan by Thursday morning.
By Friday morning, Ursula is forecast to be at 360 km north northeast of Pagasa Island, Palawan and by Saturday morning, it is projected to be at 325 km north of Pagasa Island, Palawan (already out of PAR).
PAGASA said that Ursula is forecast to gradually intensify to the most severe tropical storm category prior to landfall over Eastern Visayas, possibly this afternoon or evening.
Cebu City preparations
In Cebu City, Mayor Edgardo Labella and other officials met yesterday to draft measures to prepare for the typhoons, especially since the city had been placed under a typhoon warning signal.
City Administrator Floro Casas Jr. said disaster officials will monitor the situation in the city 24/7 via the command center at the City Hall.
Casas said Labella wanted that “all hands are on deck” this Christmas eve and on Christmas Day. Thus, the mayor has ordered that “essential personnel will not be allowed to leave or if they have applied, then it will be cancelled.”
He advised the public to prepare basic necessities, such as water and food supply, as well as flashlights in case of brownouts.
Also, starting 12 noon today, delivery trucks transporting food, water, and fuel are exempted from the truck ban in all thoroughfares of the city until after the typhoon.
Labella said this is to ensure that the delivery of the basic necessities is not hampered.
Councilor David Tumulak is also discouraging the public from using private vehicles to minimize traffic congestion.
For his part, Atty. Gerry Carillo, chairman of the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, mentioned that preemptive evacuation may be undertaken in case PAGASA declares that some areas in the city are in danger.
Carillo reminded the public, especially those living in the riverbanks, coastal and flood-prone areas, to remain vigilant.
“Ang ato gyud kaugalingong pamilya atong andamon, especially panahon ron sa Pasko…panahon ron sa paglipay, paglingaw-lingaw (We have to secure our own families). We need to be prepared,” said Carillo. — With Mary Ruth R. Malinao and Mitchelle L. Palaubsanon (FREEMAN)