Tuesday, November 4, 2014

SUPERSTORM YOLANDA: What is it all about?

A year has passed since Superstorm Haiyan (known by Filipinos as Yolanda) wreak havoc in the Visayas region in the Philippines. Haiyan or Yolanda is known to be one of the most powerful superstorms ever recorded in the history and let us take time to remember the pitiful tragedy that happened in our hearts.

Here's an excerpt from one of my College paper projects I have done back in Seattle Central College (formerly Seattle Central Community College) last winter for my English 102 class.

Super storm Haiyan: The Strongest Typhoon Ever Recorded
Terror, grief, depression, anger and disgust: thus were some of the emotions the victimsof Super storm Haiyan felt.  It is a strong tropical typhoon, known in the Philippines as Super storm “Yolanda”, recorded as the most powerful storm in the history and devastated a portion of Southeast Asia especially when it landfall in the Visayas region in the Philippines last November 8, 2013.   With the extent of the damage and casualties, the issue of whether the victims can still recover and will there be a new life ahead of them?           

Typhoon Haiyan’s name was given by the World Meteorological Organization[i].  They maintained a lists of names that are familiar in each region.  Haiyan was the thirtieth named storm in 2013. Meteorologists use the term "tropical cyclone" when talking generally about these immensely powerful natural phenomena, which are divided into five categories according to the maximum sustained wind force and the scale of the potential damage they can inflict. According to the Weather Underground meteorologist, Jeff Master, it’s been a perfectly average typhoon season and usually there were four or five storms per year and Haiyan is the fourth that season. Masters, in one of his interviews said that, “the atmospheric conditions in the air were just right to allow the storm to form and once it did form, the upper-level winds were allowing more air to spiral into the center of the typhoon.” (Palmer,Roxanne; International Business Times, Nov. 8, 2013)           

How did it started.  On November 2, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) [ii] began monitoring a broad low-pressure area about 425 kilometers (265 miles) east-southeast of Pohnpei, one of the states in the Federated States of Micronesia.  Moving through a region favoring tropical cyclogenesis (development and strengthening of a tropical cyclone in the atmosphere), the next day, Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) has classified the developing system as a tropical depression.  The tropical depression continues to strengthen resulting for the JMA to upgrade the system to a tropical storm and assigning it the name Haiyan on November 4.  Continued tracking showed that it developed an eye already so by November 5 they classified Haiyan as a typhoon.  By November 6, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA)[iii] assigned the storm the local name Yolanda as it approached their area of responsibility.  Intensification slowed somewhat during the day, though the JTWC estimated the storm to have attained Category 5-equivalent super typhoon status on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale. Later, the eye of the typhoon passed over the island of Kayangel in Palau. On November 7, Haiyan attained ten-minute sustained winds of 230 km/h (145 mph) and a maximum intensity (lowest barometric pressure) of 895 mbar.  Six hours later, the JTWC estimated Haiyan to have attained one-minute sustained winds of 315 km/h (195 mph) and gusts up to 378 km/h (235 mph). The winds are reported to be the strongest ever measured, and Haiyan could gain the title of most powerful cyclone on record from Super Typhoon Tip, which ravaged Japan in 1979. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/philippines/10440132/ Typhoon-Haiyan-whats-in-a-name.html).  Masters said that he had never seen a typhoon like Haiyan that even if it made a landfall several times, it maintained category 5 strength.

            PAGASA Cebu City weather radar reflectivity loop from November 8, 2013 stated Haiyan’s landfall on Leyte Island.  Tacloban City was struck by the northern eyewall, the most powerful part of the storm.  Interaction with land caused slight degradation of the storm's structure, though it remained an exceptionally powerful storm when it struck Tolosa, Leyte. The typhoon made four additional landfalls as it crossed the Visayas:  Daanbantayan, Bantayan Island, Concepcion, and Busuanga Island. A weakened Haiyan, with its core disrupted by interaction with the Philippines, emerged over the South China Sea late on November 8 Environmental conditions ahead of the storm soon became less favorable, as cool stable air began wrapping into the western side of the circulation. Continuing across the South China Sea, Haiyan turned more northwesterly late on November 9 and through November 10 as it moved around the southwestern edge of the subtropical ridge previously steering it westward.  Rapid weakening ensued as Haiyan approached its final landfall in Vietnam, ultimately striking the country near Haiphong, as a severe tropical storm.  Once onshore, the storm quickly diminished and was last noted as it dissipated over Guangxi Province, China during November 11.

            Accounts during and after the typhoon:PAGASA placed over 50 provinces and towns under high alert in the midst of risks of serious damages and casualties.  With the maximum sustained winds of 235 kph and gusts of up to 275 kph, foreign weather experts warned that this storm produces a “catastrophic damage” to the Visayas region of the Philippines.

Moments after the monster storm, the Visayas region has been placed on red alert the heavily battered by the storm like Tacloban, Ormoc, Daan Bantayan, Bantayan Island, Dulag-Tolosa, Dulag-Tolosa Leyte and Concepcion, Iloilo.The city of Tacloban—with a population of some 220,000 people on the island of Leyte, caught the worst of the impact, leaving it in ruins. Winds of up to 195 mph and the offshore rise of water to some 20 to 30 feet destroyed around 80 percent of the city's buildings. At least 1,800 people in the Philippines are reported dead, but the death toll could climb to near 10,000, according to some estimates. Residents saw this place as in the state of anarchy with no functioning government and few police officers or soldiers to keep order.  Massive looting on supermarkets and department stores not only for food and water but also for miscellaneous items happened.  The President refused calls to place Tacloban and other cities devastated by Haiyan under Martial Law, but he ordered hundreds of additional reinforcements to secure the area in any event when violence breaks loose on the Haiyan-affected areas.

Natural Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council[iv], a day after the typhoon reported that a total of 1,387,446 families (6,937,227 persons) were affected.  1,774 dead, 2,476 injured and a total of 41,176 houses destroyed A total of 66,899 families (319,867 persons) are being served inside 1,135 evacuation centers.  Some areas became isolated because of the impassable roads, suspension of the operation of the four airports, and power outages in majority of the regions.         

A total of P461,199,523.48 worth of damages (P87,997,500.00 to infrastructure and P373,202,023.48 to agriculture) were reported in Regions IV-B, V, VI, VII, VIII, and Caraga region. (NDRRMC Situation Report on the effects of Typhoon Yolanda)
Smell of death was in the air.  Hundreds of dead bodies laid on the streets untouched together with the ruins of the houses and buildings.  Local government officials were also victims themselves so they can’t do immediate actions.Migration of victims from Eastern Visayas (stricken by the typhoon) to Manila was handled by the Philippine Air force CI30 cargo planes. Victims line up for days just to wait for their turn to take the plane.  They were taken at the Villamor Airbase and then processed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development and some volunteer groups and foundations and were provided with medical treatment, food and water.  Glenda Derla, assistant leader of the DSWD NCR (National Capital Region) team deployed in the airport, told philstar.com that the victims who had no place to go in Manila can stay inside the DSWD shelter at the Jose Fabella Memoral Hospital. (Carcano and Bacani)

            Questions in some peoples mind came up whether the preparations made before the typhoon were enough or did the local government made proper warnings to the people.  As per report of the Senior Editor of the CNBC news, Mark Koba, stated that Killer storms like Haiyan have gotten stronger over recent decades, and according to forecasts, they are going to get more powerful in the coming years; so it is really hard to handle the preparations.  Considering that the Philippines are better at dealing with typhoons because of it being in the middle of the world’s most unpredictable region for typhoons and had experienced worse typhoons, heavy flooding, and heavy rains with strong winds, so the local officials knew what to do.  But even that hard-earned expertise sometimes isn't enough to prevent death tolls from climbing into the thousands.       (Koba)

            An article by the Associated Press, published November 11, 2013 titled: Philippines prepared for Typhoon Haiyan, but evacuation sites couldn't withstand storm surges, stated that
“MANILA, PHILIPPINES – Hours before Typhoon Haiyan hit, Philippine authorities moved 800,000 people to sturdy evacuation centers -- churches, schools and public buildings. But the brick-and-mortar structures were simply no match for the jet-force winds and massive walls of waves that swept ashore Friday, devastating cities, towns and villages and killing thousands, including many of those who had huddled in government shelters.The tragedy is another reminder that nature's fury is sometimes so immense that it can overwhelm even the most diligent preparations. Combine that with a string of unfortunate circumstances — some man-made — and the result is the disaster of epic proportions that the country now faces.”            

Philippine officials had not anticipated the 6-meter (20-feet) storm surges that swept through Tacloban.  To wit, in one of the interviews, Senior presidential aide, Rene Almendras said that they were ready for the wind but were not ready for the water. Many perished in shelters (they drowned because they were trapped of the high water that swept inside their evacuation site) , others ignored the evacuation and stayed put in their homes, either out of fear their property would fall prey to looters or because they underestimated the risk.In one of the Philippine television station (GMA) report, the reporter was crying as she was reporting because the evacuation center, a gymnasium, where they took cover together with thousands of evacuees, was starting to give way because of the very strong winds and rain.With the great catastrophe that happened, a lot of people, not only Filipinos worked hand in hand to help the Philippines cope up with the situation. 

To wit:

1.       Globe Telecoms (one of the leading communication company) as of November 11, 2013 has established operating cell sites 49% of the total affected sites in Visayas and 30% of the affected sites in Luzon and Mindanao have been restored. They set up two “Libreng Tawag”(Free Call) in Hotel Alejandro in Tacloban City through its “Bangon Pinoy” (Stand up Filipino)  program.  They also set up Free Internet facilities in Mactan and Villamor airbase for easier communications between the typhoon victims and their kin. Globe has put up 17 Free call stations, 32 Free charging sites and eight Free calls and charging booths, and two free Internet facilities in Iloilo, Cebu, Leyte, Bohol, Antique, Capiz and Pasay City.
2.      The government of the Philippines has led the disaster response establishing two forward command posts to coordinate response activities. Aside from the evacuation before the storm, they pre-positioned food commodities and emergency relief supplies, and deployed military assets and road-clearing equipment to assist with relief operations.  They had also airlifted safe drinking water, relief supplies, and food commodities to Tacloban. Philippine military helicopters began aerial surveys of storm damage on November 9 and the NDRRMC reports that national police forces are assisting in the evacuation of typhoon-affected populations.
3.      U.S. GOVERNMENT (USG) RESPONSE :  On November 9, U.S. Charge d’affairs, a.i. Brian L. Goldbeck declared a disaster in the Phillipines due to the effects of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan.  In response, USAID authorized an initial drawdown of $10 M from the ESAID/OFDA Respond Fund to support immediate response efforts, including procuring and transporting and distributing relief commodities and improving access to sanitation falicities for typhoon-affected populations.
4.      USAID/OFDA is coordinating the transport of 1,000 rolls of plastic sheeting and 10,000 hygiene kits—sufficient to meet the needs of 10,000 families—from its relief supply warehouse in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
5.      USAID/OFDA is working in close collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense Pacific Command (PACOM). PACOM forces have arrived in Manila and are supporting the transport of emergency relief commodities to affected areas. In addition, U.S. military aircraft are supporting DART assessment flights over affected areas to determine additional humanitarian needs and assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ search-and-rescue operations.
6.      US troops assisted in the clearing operation of the ruins and bodies through the Operation Damayan.  Dead bodies on the streets were put in a mass grave.
7.      The United Nations, Red Cross, different organizations, non-government organizations, ordinary people rich or poor extended help to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

With this kind of disaster anywhere, we can see the bayanihan (cooperation) all along. A But even with adequate resources and a vigorous government authority, forces of nature and the unpredictability of people can destroy even the best advance planning. The 2011 tsunami in Japan might have killed many more without in-place emergency response measures, but an inadequate response to the nuclear crisis that followed seriously compounded the disaster.  Nor are such catastrophes limited to poor countries like the Philippines. When Hurricane Katrina plowed ashore near New Orleans in 2005, more than 1,400 were killed, many of whom ignored orders to evacuate before it hit.  Gwendolyn Pang, the executive director of the Philippine Red Cross, said Haiyan was three times more powerful than Katrina.  She said there should be an educational campaign to explain to people the destructiveness of a storm surge, which is like a tsunami. "We should really start understanding this and make it our way of life, part of our readiness and preparedness," she added (Published November 11, 2013 Associated Press)Information dissemination is important to establish an excellent readiness and preparedness campaign.  Avoiding too much red tapes, proper coordination and information with all levels of government to give excellent public service.  (Example was the distribution of relief goods in the typhoon Yolanda stricken area - some areas and people were not reached by the relief goods that was why looting happened.
After several months of the disaster, the people that migrated to Manila went back to their hometown to start a new life.  They were given free ride home and brought with them the donations given to them in Manila.  It may not be a lot but it will help them a little to start.  This tragedy brought us closer together and stand as one.  But for sure lessons were learned that we cannot do anything if Mother Nature speaks up.

[i] “The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations. It is the UN system's authoritative voice on the state and behavior of the Earth's atmosphere, its interaction with the oceans, the climate it produces and the resulting distribution of water resources.” ( http://www.wmo.int/pages/about/index_en.html)
 [ii] The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) is a joint United States Navy – United States Air Force task force located in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The JTWC is responsible for the issuing of tropical cyclone warnings in the North West Pacific Ocean, South Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean for United States Department of Defense interests, as well as U.S. and Micronesian civilian interests within the command's area of responsibility (AOR).
 [iii] PAGASA means Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration. PAGASA is an organization that is dedicated to provide weather updates so as to protect lives and property during any emergency of weather change.
 [iv] The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) is tasked to come up with a framework for disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM), as well as supervise preparations for, and responses to, natural calamities and human-induced disasters.

     Works Cited:

Carcano, Dennis and Louis Bacani. 2000 Yolanda victims from Tacloban flown to Metro Manila. 15 November 2013.
Flores, Helen. Brace for super typhoon Yolanda – Pagasa (The Philippine Star). 6 November 2013. News.
Jerusalem, Jigger J. Pag-asa: Storm surge caused by Yolanda ‘unexpected’. 25 November 2013. News.
Koba, Mark. Megastorms' awful truth: Preparation can only do so much. 13 November 2013. .
NDRRMC Situation Report on the effects of Typhoon Yolanda. 18 November 2013. Statistics. .
Suarez, KD. 'Haiyan,' 3 others removed from int'l typhoon names list (Rappler). 26 February 2014. News.
Yap, DJ. Supertyphoon nears PH (Philippine Daily Inquirer). 6 November 2013. News.

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