STRONG winds and heavy rains from Tropical Storm Aghon knocked down this tree in front of the Minor Basilica and Parish of St. John the Baptist in Taytay, Rizal on Sunday. No one was hurt when it crushed two parked vehicles. — PHILIPPINE STAR/MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

By Adrian H. Halili, Reporter

MORE than 7,000 passengers including cargo helpers and truck drivers were stranded on Sunday morning, the Philippine Coast Guard said, as the country’s first storm of the year intensified on its way to southern Luzon.

Tropical Storm Aghon (International name: Ewiniar) moved closer to Manila, threatening to intensify into a typhoon before leaving the Philippines by Wednesday.

The state weather bureau placed more areas under tropical wind signal No. 2.

In an advisory, the coast guard said 2,913 people had been stranded in Southern Tagalog ports as of Sunday morning, 1,708 in Bicol ports, 1,607 in Eastern Visayas ports and 849 in Nasipit Port in Northeastern Mindanao.

It added that 26 vessels, 14 motorboats and 875 rolling cargoes had been stranded. Seventy-six vessels and 21 motorboats had taken shelter in Northeastern Mindanao, Bicol, Eastern Visayas and the Southern Tagalog regions.

It also said it had rescued a motorboat that capsized in waters off Peñafrancia, Claveria in Masbate amid the storm.

MBCA Oceanus Uno was struck by powerful waves while it was on its way to Masbate City, causing the vessel to capsize, it said.

Its search and rescue team rescued 48 passengers and crew members, “all of whom were found to be in good condition.”

The coast guard initially suspended voyages for all vessels and watercraft but lifted it later in the day amid improving weather conditions.

The state weather bureau said Aghon had slowly intensified and was turning toward Quezon province on Luzon island.

In a 2 p.m. bulletin, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said the storm was last seen near Mauban, Quezon.

It was slowly moving northwestward with maximum sustained winds of 75 kilometers per hour (kph) near the center and gustiness of up to 125 kph.

“By (May 27) it would be in the coastal waters of Aurora, and may strengthen into a severe tropical storm,” state weather forecaster Benison Estareja told a news briefing.

He added that the storm would likely move across the Calabarzon area in the next 12 hours.

PAGASA raised tropical wind signal no. 2 over Aurora, the northern and central portions of Quezon, Polillo Islands, Laguna, the eastern portion of Batangas and eastern Rizal. Wind speeds of more than 62 to 88 kph were expected.

“Minor to moderate impacts from strong winds are possible within any of the localities where wind signal No. 2 is hoisted,” it said in a separate statement.

Signal No. 1 was raised over eastern Isabela, Quirino and Bataan, southern Nueva Vizcaya, eastern and southern Nueva Ecija and the eastern portion of Pampanga.

Signal No. 1 was also hoisted over Bulacan, Metro Manila, the rest of Quezon and Rizal, Cavite, the rest of Batangas, the northern and central parts of Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque, the extreme northern portion of Romblon, Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur.

“From Monday through the remainder of the forecast period, Aghon will gradually accelerate northeastward while intensifying,” PAGASA said.

“Aghon is forecast to reach typhoon category by Tuesday afternoon or evening and may exit the (Philippine area of responsibility) on Wednesday,” it added.

Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) said workers were on standby for possible brownouts in storm-hit areas.

Meralco has implemented measures to mitigate the possible impact of the storm, Meralco Vice President and Head of Corporate Communications Joe R. Zaldarriaga said in a statement.

He added that the company had asked billboard owners and operators to roll signages up to avoid toppling.

Meralco’s controlling stakeholder, Beacon Electric Asset Holdings, Inc., is partly owned by PLDT, Inc.

Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has an interest in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — with KATA