TUGUEGARAO -- Philippine officials are assessing damage and checking on possible casualties as Typhoon Mangkhut pummeled the northern breadbasket with ferocious wind and rain that set off landslides, damaged an airport terminal and ripped off tin roofs.
There are immediate deaths reported but Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said officials in northeastern Cagayan province where the typhoon slammed ashore before dawn are verifying the drownings of two children. Authorities are also checking what happened to about 70 men who reportedly returned to their coastal village to check on their homes during the typhoon onslaught.
In Malacañang, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said there has been zero casualty as of 11 a.m. Saturday.
"We confirm na as of now, as of this time, wala pa pong reported na casualties (there has been no reported casualties)," Roque Jr. said as he gave the latest update on the government's emergency response with the onslaught of Ompong.
Ompong is the strongest storm to hit the country this year, the state weather agency Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said.
As of 7 a.m. Saturday, Mangkhut's winds weakened to 185 kilometers per hour after it blew across Luzon Island toward the South China Sea, aiming at southern China and Hong Kong, where residents braced for the worst.
It is moving faster at a speed of 3 kph west after it made landfall.
Public storm warning signal number four was raised over Ilocos Norte, Babuyan Group of Islands, Apayao, Abra, and Kalinga.
Cagayan, Batanes, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Mountain Province, Benguet, Ifugao, Northern Isabela were under public storm warning signal number three.
Public storm warning signal number two was hoisted over southern Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Pangasinan, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Aurora, Zambales, Quirino, Pampanga, Bulacan, and Northern Quezon, including Polillo Island.
Pagasa placed Bataan, Rizal, Metro Manila, Cavite, Batangas, Laguna, rest of Quezon, and Lubang Island under public storm warning signal number one.
Roque said heads of different government agencies are heeding President Rodrigo Duterte's directive to ensure immediate response to the impact of Ompong.
"Right now, it (assessment) is still ongoing that's why wala pa tayong (we still have no) complete picture. So ngayon (now), we're getting reports on the ground as the typhoon is still there in most affected areas in Isabela and Cagayan," the Palace official said.
"The alter ego of the President, I think, has been beneficial because everyone, as far as the line agencies of the government, [is] directly reporting to them now. They are going around and ensuring that we are at our best as far as disaster preparedness is concerned," he added.
Roque said the President is monitoring the situation in the typhoon-hit areas.
He likewise guaranteed that Duterte is ready to inspect areas being affected by Ompong.
"I'm not sure where he (Duterte) is exactly right now, but he is in Manila. He did not leave and is monitoring. We'll see if we can also invite him. But knowing him, he will be the first to go to the affected area as soon as the weather will allow his chopper to take off," he said. (Ruth Abbey Gita/SunStar Philippines with AP)