November 15, 2013 (8:00 AM)
Below are images showing a satellite view of Magsaysay Boulevard, Del Pilar and Jones streets.
Credits for photos go to ABC
Before Yolanda: Leyte Park Hotel/UP Botanical
The images do not cover the area where my family’s apartment once stood, but we did live two blocks from UP Botanical campus – a few steps from the Cancabato Bay coastline. If you check google maps, it will show you that our home (Private Road, Tacloban City) was less than a kilometer away from the bay. Despite the proximity of our location to the bay -obviously a storm surge zone – our household did not receive any advice requiring household members to evacuate.
After Yolanda: Leyte Park/UP Botanical
- Yolanda aftermath
Every nation that is vulnerable to landfalling tropical cyclones (i.e. hurricanes and typhoons) has a responsibility to:
1) Educate its people about the dangers of storm surge
2) Effectively relay timely, accurate storm forecasts, including understandable and place-specific storm surge information
3) Designate safe shelter- that can withstand category 5 winds – outside of the surge (inundation) zone
Nations may also choose to build dikes, levees, and sea walls to deal with the problem.
Of course, these measures are easier said than done and are highly dependent on a given country’s government and its resources.
Read: Typhoon and hurricane storm surge disasters are unacceptable
Philippines was expecting Yolanda. We had almost a week’s lead time to prepare yet we were unable to make appropriate actions that would have prevented the loss of more than two thousand lives. Local government officials argued that they were “prepared for Yolanda but its strength was overwhelming.” I say that this sounds a lot like “I studied… but the exam was just really hard,” or “I had noble intentions to serve in public office… but the system was just too dirty, I was sucked in.”
Let’s be honest. Taclobanons were not prepared, because if we were, everyone would have moved out of Tacloban before the typhoon had hit and devastated the city. The facts remain – people did not know what a storm surge was, people did not know how a category 5 typhoon was different from other cyclones, and the government was not able to identify shelters outside surge zone that could have withstood the strong winds (people even drowned in evacuation centers).
What went wrong? I could think of a few reasons.
- With cyclones visiting the Philippines 19-20 times a year, we overestimated our ability to withstand a typhoon (LGU officials and constituents alike)
- Desensitized to typhoons, we had underestimated the strength of Yolanda – a proactive effort to educate people about storm surge could have made a difference
- LGU officials lacked understanding and possibly appropriate advice on the risks presented by typhoon Yolanda (walk the talk: high-ranking officials themselves had not evacuated to a safer site when their houses were located on a beach)
- Slow, weak, and disorganized relief and recovery operations from the national government and its agencies
- Map showing Leyte Park Hotel, part of UP Tacloban College – Botanical campus and Leyte Park Campus, Leyte Provincial Capitol Building
Why it’s important to look back
Read: Remembering typhoon Ruping (a survivor from Cebu reminisces his life in after super typhoon Ruping hit the city in 1990, killing more than 700 people and causing 10-B pesos of damages)
We cannot keep on making the same mistakes. Yolanda was not the Philippines’ first encounter with a category 5 typhoon. In 1990, Cebu was hit by typhoon Ruping (international name: Mike) leaving Philippines with ten billion worth of damage and a death toll of 748. This experience from 23 years ago could have provided us with insights on how to best handle the disaster pre- and post -Yolanda. But as we all see, both our local and national governments were starting from scratch, flailing as they handled Yolanda – from local government unit (LGU) preparations to national and National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) decisions.
NDRRMC undersecretary admits to being unprepared:
“We have a concrete system (on typhoon preparedness and response). Ang hindi lang natin napaghandaan ay ‘yung ganitong magnitude. Napakalaki (What we were not prepared for was the magnitude. Too huge.),” Undersecretary Eduardo del Rosario said in a televised interview with reporters on Thursday.
Once Tacloban stabilizes, I hope that we all find time to look back and reflect on our experiences; our government and its institutions – in designing better policies in risk and disaster management; and the people – taking ownership in assessing safety and security risks.
“What we need now are words of encouragement. We don’t want to finger-point. We don’t want to name blame on anybody…. The worst is over. We survived the most powerful typhoon in the world,” says Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez on an interview with Jessica Soho.
We do not need to play the blame game, officials are right, but this does not mean we get a free pass as if nothing had happened. We need to sit down and discuss what went wrong and what could have been done better. Failures are learning opportunities and the Yolanda incident is one course our leaders can’t ignore.
Watch: Pres. Noynoy Aquino points at the local government units for the bottleneck in relief operations.
We can not always offer weak excuses and cry “but we are a developing nation” in covering up failure. If we do this right, we could frame a strategy comparable to the adeptness Japan demonstrated in relief and rebuilding efforts after the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami. Effectiveness does not always have to boil down to money and resources; leadership and political will are strong success factors too.
For more before-and-after photos of Tacloban, click here.
BEFORE (legend: Astrodome)
Guiuan, Eastern Samar just as badly hit as Tacloban or worse, 100% damage on infrastructures says Mayor Gonzales
Tacloban – another round of deaths predicted if relief ops not facilitated effectively in next days
Municipalities outside Tacloban… Yolanda aftermath (Eastern Visayas)