Coping with disasters

WHEN WE submitted this article to our editor, Typhoon “Ompong” was roaring towards Northern Luzon packing no less than 205 km per hour winds.

Here is hoping that somehow Typhoon “Ompong’s” impact will somehow be mitigated. Like most Filipinos, I am praying for the best, but preparing for the worst.

Weathermen could not help but compare “Ompong” to “Yolanda” which devastated  Samar, Leyte and neighboring areas in November 2013.

“Yolanda” appears the stronger of the two, with  255 km winds. “Ompong”, however, has almost twice the radius of 1,000 kilometers compared to “Yolanda’s” 600 kilometers.

GMA resident weatherman “Mang Tani” Cruz explained that any typhoon in the 200 km category would be very strong and devastating.  The most recent typhoon to visit Japan was under 200 km but caused so much destruction and loss of lives nonetheless.

Aside from the wind, torrential rains and sea surges usually aggravate the destruction, “Mang Tani” explained.

Listening to government announcements, all necessary precautions as well as remediation measures appear in place.

National and local government resources are reported ready with emergency response measures including but not limited to movement  of residents from endangered areas to “safe” evacuation centers as well as  pre-positioning of critical relief items as close as possible to perceived affected areas.

Armed services and civilian groups have conducted rescue drills to demonstrate their capabilities.

A report also said that  top level government officials (read that as Cabinet members) were instructed by the President to be as close as possible to the typhoon affected areas to serve as points of contact during the relief operations. The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), at the same time, warned that mayors absent in disaster areas face sanctions.

Having experienced more than our share of typhoons annually, the Philippines should by now be an expert on dealing with such calamities. But the sad reality is no one can really ever be prepared to respond to a calamity of “Yolanda’s” magnitude.

Even federal and state authorities in the US have their own shortcomings. Authorities were severely criticized for slow, inept, inadequate response when Louisiana reeled from hurricane “Katrina” in the US.

The response to “Yolanda” certainly left much to be desired. Politics aggravated what was already a difficult relief operation. In the aftermath, well-connected contractors cornered rehabilitation projects only to come up with substandard temporary shelter for evacuees. An undetermined amount of perishable relief goods ended up rotting without reaching their intended recipients.

If it is any consolation, calamities also tend to bring out the best in us. Almost immediately, messages of sympathy and support come in from friends abroad. Friendly countries and international relief agencies donate in cash, goods and personal service to help in the relief efforts. In government and private offices, churches and schools, almost everybody gets busy sorting and packing relief goods for distribution to affected areas.

Even more touching are countless stories of victims caring for others inspire of their own misfortunes./PN


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