The Philippines is the most typhoon prone large landmass in the world, with up to 20 typhoons (also known as cyclones, tropical storms and in the Atlantic area, hurricanes) entering the Philippine Area of Responsibility. This area is managed by PAGASA, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration. Of these between 5 and 10 actually make landfall and wreak havoc.
The worst typhoon recorded was in 1881, killing some 20,000 people. In modern times, last year’s Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as ‘Yolanda’, smashed the Visayas to pieces in early November of 2013. The total lack of preparation and effective action by the government no doubt contributed to the suffering of the people hit by this massive storm.
It Got Political!
Relief efforts were hampered by local government officials playing party politics, handing out supplies based on the electoral records to those who had voted for them. Foreign aid was often misdirected and kept for the favoured supporters of a politician and frustration was a common emotion among many NGOs and foreigners trying to help. The US Navy commander of a task force placed his helicopters at the disposal of the local authorities only to have them sit idly on the tarmac for three days before anyone decided where they should be used.
The message for expats living in the Philippines is clear: you are on your own. As another massive storm begins to lash the islands as I write this, many will experience loss of power for days, even weeks. Do you have a generator and fuel to run it? Once your phones go flat, how will you re-charge them? What about fridges, lights, aircon?
Are You Prepared?
Do you have fresh drinking water stored away? Too late to go and buy it now as the shelves of most supermarkets will be bare thanks to last-minute panic buying. Even though there is usually three or more days warning of an impending storm, people still wait until the last minute, then panic.
When I lived in Cebu we always had several ‘gallons’, those ‘mineral water’ bottles you can have home delivered. As well, batteries for torches, candles, matches and plenty of ‘trapal’, or plastic tarps. We also kept a supply of noodles, frozen vegies (self-defrosting once the power went out but the freezer will keep most frozen things eatable for a week if you only open it once a day) and tinned meat. I also hunted out some wind-up torches and even a wind-up radio.
When the storm hits there will be flying debris, the worst is probably the sheets of wriggly tin that cover many roofs. Coconut trees and banana trees will blow bits of themselves everywhere and moving outside is pretty risky. The worst of it comes when the power goes off and it gets really hot and humid. After a few hours there will be a lull as the eye of the storm passes over, then its on again.
Of course, eventually the wind and rain will cease and its clean up time. So long as you have a well-made house and are prepared, it is just one of life’s adventures and something to experience. On the other hand, it could be a life changing event you never forget. How prepared are you?