Typhoon Hagupit: What lessons learned?

Typhoon Haiyan killed over 7000 people in the eastern Philippines just a little over a year ago. In my last two posts I had wondered out loud if the Filipinos had learned any lessons or if they were going to just adopt a wait-and-see attitude when Typhoon Hagupit approached the coast in almost the same location as the devastating Super Typhoon Haiyan in Nov of 2013. After all the typhoon season was all but over when “Ruby”, as the typhoon was locally known, decided to come to town. It was really unexpected.

By the time the typhoon hit the coast it had been downgraded but this does not take away from the enormous power that the winds and tropical rains had on the local inhabitants. The damage was still very severe and as a result the death toll could have been much higher. What was different this time? What lessons were learned?

By all accounts the emergency preparation and evacuation of millions from low lying coastal areas ahead of Typhoon Hagupit saved many lives. The “wait-and-see” attitude held out only until they knew for sure that what area the typhoon was going to make landfall. Then they acted. In the last count only 27 people were reported killed.

“We now have a total of 27 dead, most of them in Borongan, Eastern Samar,” said Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, adding most of the dead drowned in floodwaters.

He said around 2,500 houses were totally or partially destroyed in Borongan, a town of 64,000 people.

But despite the rising death toll, there was relief that Hagupit had not brought destruction on the scale of super typhoon Haiyan, which last year killed thousands of people in the same areas of the central Philippines.
CBC News – Typhoon Hagupit Death Toll Rises

BBC News – Typhoon Hagupit: What did the Philippines do differently?

The fact that it was no longer a “super” typhoon should not take away from the enormous effort that thousands of Filipinos put in to minimize the losses. Secured shelters, transportation, food, clothing and water for hundreds of thousands of evacuees were provided in a relatively short time and were delivered to the right locations.

Lessons learned:

PAGASA – Better weather forecasting and determination of where the storm would make landfall: The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical & Astronomical Services Administration got the track right. Their prediction was closer, where 20-60 miles makes a big difference, than the American NOAA predictions.

NDRRMC – Better preparation: The National Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Council, along with a long list of international humanitarian organizations (NGOs,) organized shelter, bedding, food, water, medical supplies, communications equipment, clothing, and most importantly transportation for the critical evacuation response according to a well thought out National Disaster Response Plan.

UNICEF’s Tacloban office, established after Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the archipelagic nation in November 2013, activated its emergency response plan last week with 54 staff remaining on standby to deploy to affected areas. Among the most pressing threats to children’s health, the UN agency explained, were poor sanitation and unclean water meaning that a restoration of existing water sources is considered a “top priority in the critical days after the storm.” www.un.org

The agency added that it had strategically prepositioned supplies in warehouses in Tacloban, Manila and Cotabato, including water kits, hygiene kits, water pumps, generators, water storage and treatment facilities as well as nutritional therapeutic food items to combat malnutrition, oral rehydration salts and tarpaulins power for at least 12,000 families.

The UN was one of the first to step in with emergency response.

In March 2014 I flew over some islands north of Cebu and about 70 nautical miles west of Tacloban City which suffered the worst destruction from Typhoon Hiayan just 4 months before.

Taal Volcano just 30 miles south of Manila. It has erupted 33 times is recent history.

The rice fields of north Mindoro Island.

North and South Gigantes Islands in the Western Visayas.

Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as “Yolanda”) passed over the Gigantes group, along with the rest of Panay, on November 8, 2013,[9] damaging houses and boats. Unofficial reports stated more than 90 percent of the houses on Gigantes were destroyed. Wikipedia

Many of the palm trees had lost their fronds but were quickly growing back.Santa Fe, on Bantayan Island near Cebu and just 70 nautical miles west of Tacloban, had been completely pounded and many of the tin roofs were still missing.Even by the time I flew over, just four months later, they had cleaned up the enormous amount of debris from the storm surge but thousands of residents were still living in  makeshift tents and temporary shelters.

UNICEF and the Red Cross are three of the more proactive relief agencies working in the areas that were hardest hit.

The UNHCR Refugee Agency is in the area and looking for donations.

You can donate directly to the UNICEF Philippine relief fund as they need to make sure that this new disaster doesn’t undo the good that they have accomplished up until now.

Despite the fact that no typhoon, volcano or earthquake can be predicted to 100% the scientists working these disaster predictions are getting better and better. All the emergency preparation in the world will not help if the timing is off. In this case the landfall predictions were correct to within manageable tolerances and the emergency agencies were able to make a difference. The added benefit of getting it right is that the predictions become believable. The locals become less fatalistic and more reactionary. So when next the butterfly’s wings beat they are prepared.

About John S Goulet

Air Transport Pilot, consultant, writer, blogger and photographer with 40 years in Professional Aviation.
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