The Philippines is a small archipelago that lies along the Pacific typhoon belt in Southeast Asia, so it is no stranger to heavy monsoon rains and occasional howlers during the 2nd half of the year. The rainy season in this tropical country begins in June and lasts up to the early days of December. On the average, the country prepares itself for 17 to 20 storms each year.
Three major regions make up this country of over 7,100 islands – Luzon Island in the north (which hosts the nation’s capital Manila), the Visayan Islands in the mid-section, and Mindanao down south. Both Luzon and the Visayas are prone to these severe weather disturbances. Luzon gets much of the brunt from June to mid October, while the Visayas gets the impact with changes in wind pattern during the months of November and December. Mindanao rarely experiences storms or typhoons.
In October, the strongest typhoon in the world for 2010 barreled straight toward the northern part of Luzon Island, packing more than 175 kph of center winds, with gusts occasionally reaching 210 to 260 kph. Typical of a mega-typhoon, Juan (international code name: Megi) left widespread damage but with remarkably minimal loss of lives.
History and past experience has taught the Filipino people to know and respect nature’s wrath. While technological advancement has helped us track typhoons and other weather disturbances in real time, people in this nation know that storms can suddenly change courses, make a temporary stopover, or even do a U-turn. We’ve had several storms behaving this way and our people have acknowledged than no amount of human expertise or cutting edge technology can challenge or alter this.
We were fortunate that while Megi was quite powerful, it stuck to its storyboard and followed every line of the script. So disaster preparation efforts, which include preparing of survival gear went on according to the plan and residents along its direct path were evacuated way before it hit land. The whole nation knew damage would be extensive, but Filipinos are known to be resilient and value life over anything else.
Gone are the days when a small TV set or a carabao (water buffalo) could have been the cause of someone getting swept away by floodwater because he just had to go back to save the family’s most prized possession. People now know that livelihood and businesses can be rebuilt but lives lost can never be restored.
So now it seems that both government and the citizenry have finally learned about what typhoons and other natural calamities had been trying to teach us over the years. We all need to have a healthy respect for the destructive power of nature. And we just have to build our world and live our lives with this thought constantly in our minds.
Decades of experience with all sorts of storms and typhoons in varying sizes, strengths and demeanor are instrumental to the formation of this elemental factor in disasters and emergency preparedness efforts. We are all hoping that this follows through and results to the institutionalization of standardized response systems to all sorts of disasters. Hopefully we can replicate the efforts for lesser storms and depart from the attitude of taking it one disaster at a time. The government can only do so much for us, we need to be proactive in preparing the correct survival gear for ourselves and our families.
Karina M. Jugo (October 21, 2010) From the Philippines