Wednesday, November 13, 2013

IN ONE EAR OUT THE OTHER (The storm surge we were advised of but did nothing about)

By Siesta-friendly

Did authorities fail to explain to those living near the coastal areas where Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan, internationally) landed what storm surges are? 

For how else do we explain the aftermath? Dozens (potentially, hundreds) of drowned bodies on the street, on the fields, inside buildings. How much more were taken by the sea?

As early as 2 days before Yolanda’s landfall, Philstar published PAGASA’s (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) advisory that “[s]torm surges are also expected in the coastal areas of Catanduanes, Albay, Sorsogon, Eastern Visayas, Dinagat Island and Siargao Island as early as Thursday evening and over the seaboards of Visayas and southern Luzon area by Friday and Saturday morning”. 

A day before landfall, ANC posted an update from PAGASA which included the information that “[t]hose living in coastal areas under signals 3 and 2 are alerted against storm surges with waves reaching 7 meters in height.

It is inconceivable that people near coastal areas would have stayed around had they known they could be engulfed by 7 meters of water.  Let’s take for example Tacloban City which is almost entirely surrounded by water and almost entirely flat land with no higher ground to escape to from floods.  Instead of advising Tacloban residents to prepare for the Typhoon, they should have all been evacuated. Who stays, and allows people to stay, behind knowing 7 meters of water are about to surge?

A day after landfall, ABS-CBN news anchor Ted Failon – who personally witnessed the devastation in Tacloban City – while reporting on air admitted that he had reported PAGASA’s advisory on potential storm surges but said he didn’t realize what it was until it actually happened.

Perhaps we need to learn how to impart information.  It obviously isn’t enough to disseminate information.  PAGASA notified us about storm surges.  Who explained what they were? NO ONE.  Who prepared for them? NO ONE.

Yet, it is not difficult to learn about storm surges on the internet. Even PAGASA’s website has a definition of a storm surge (for short, an inundation and not mere waves) with corresponding photo -

Often, we attribute the devastation caused by weather disturbances to “Acts of God”.  Yet “acts of God” are beyond human control.  During at least 3 days before Haiyan’s landfall, the whole world already knew and talked about Haiyan with words like “perfect storm” and “one of the strongest in the world”. Was the loss of lives really beyond human control, especially having been advised of storm surges in coastal areas which seemed to have drowned so many people in precisely those areas? 

It is supremely unfortunate that we had to experience storm surges for us to prepare for it … next time.  Simple research would have been enough to inform us that entire coastal areas should have been completely evacuated before the storm hit.