Their recollection of what transpired when super typhoon Odette hit in December 2021 informed most of the decisions of government and private individuals to prepare for “Betty,” and rightly so.
Super typhoon Odette left Cebuanos with plenty of lessons about nature’s fury and how and what to prepare before an impending disaster and after. It would be foolish and reckless to ignore these lessons when the threat of super typhoon Betty was announced last week.
It is true government officials and almost everybody started to take action early on, but have we learned all the lessons that our experience with Odette had to offer? The activities in the past few days to prepare for Betty might not be enough had Betty passed this way.
Days before super typhoon Betty entered the Philippines on Saturday, May 27, 2023, people started preparing for what was feared to come. Some prepared early to evacuate to schools or churches without waiting to be asked. This was unlike past emergencies when disaster preparedness efforts suffered with the refusal of occupants to leave their homes. Their memory of water rushing inside their houses, roofs blown off, and electricity shut down must have entered their minds, making them willing to move to safer ground. Trips were canceled and plans were changed. Some filled up their vehicles with fuel, bought extra batteries and water for their homes, and withdrew cash.
Government preparations included visiting houses in flood-prone areas about the need to evacuate and know where to go should danger arise, and positioning relief goods and food packs to coastal areas before Betty entered the country. The Coast Guard and other military forces have been briefed and positioned. Social welfare and disaster preparedness agencies have assured they were ready and equipped. Top government officials echoed those assurances.
How about the other measures that needed to be addressed based on what we learned from the Odette experience? Ensuring supply and stable prices for roofing materials, drinking water, fuel and food. These items were hard to get or were sold at obscene prices after Odette. Efforts to protect consumers during a calamity should have been taken together with evacuation plans and the advanced positioning of goods.
There is also the matter of information dissemination channels which were absent for a few days after Odette. Connectivity limitations didn’t help. Media companies became calamity victims too and could not do the job of immediately informing the public. People were hungry for information on where to get drinking water, how to reach areas made impassable by debris, and where are their local officials.
Information during a calamity is crucial to saving life and property, picking themselves up after the blow, and restoring faith in government and institutions that were to be the first source of help.
There were lessons from super typhoon Odette to prepare us for the next calamity but maybe we have not learned enough of them.
May 27, 2023
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