THREE’S a company; so is disaster. In the Philippines, disaster comes together in three forms: typhoon, rain, and flood.
Typhoons Sendong and Pablo were only a preview. Both were super typhoons, thus the widespread devastation they caused to Northern Mindanao (particularly the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan) and Southern Mindanao.
The recent typhoon Yolanda is a precursor of the things to come. In his weather website wunderground.com, Dr. Jeff Masters noted: “(Yolanda is) the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall in world history.”
The US-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) recorded Yolanda’s average strength at 195 miles per hour (314kilometers per hour) at landfall. It shattered the previous record set in 1969 by Hurricane Camille, which carried 190 mph (306 kph) winds when it landed in Mississippi in the United States.
On record, Yolanda is the fourth strongest tropical cyclone in world history in terms of overall strength, according to Masters. The all-time record is still held by super typhoon Nancy in 1961 at 215 mph (346 kph), followed by super typhoon Violet in the same year at 205 mph (323 kph), and super typhoon Ida in 1958 with 200 mph (322 kph).
There will be more super typhoons to come – thanks to climate change.
Getting a Grip on Climate Change in the Philippines, a report released by World Bank earlier this year notes: “Climate change is expected to lead to more intense typhoons, whose storm surges will be superimposed on higher sea levels.”
The forthcoming typhoons will be much stronger and so the devastation will be greater. With them, come big rains and strong floods. For a country like the Philippines, which has lost much of its forest cover that means disaster.
A typhoon is a mature tropical cyclone that develops in the northwestern part of the Pacific Ocean between 180° and 100°E. The Philippines is located in this region which, according to the US National Hurricane Center, is referred to as the northwest Pacific basin.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, shares this information: “The majority of storms form between June and November whilst tropical cyclone formation is at a minimum between December and May. On average, the northwestern Pacific features the most numerous and intense tropical cyclones globally. The Philippines receive a brunt of the landfalls, with China and Japan being impacted slightly less.”
In the past, Central Luzon and Mindanao were typhoon-free but now tropical cyclones no longer spare them. The country’s cyclone paths cover Mindoro, Marinduque, Bicol, Panay Island, Samar, and Leyte. Typhoons used to be moderate in Northern Luzon and Batanes, but not anymore as typhoons after typhoons now frequent these areas.
The Bicol region and Central Luzon, particularly Pampanga and Zambales, are in greatest danger because they are located right in the so-called “typhoon corridor” in the Philippines. Super typhoons blowing one after another could, experts claim, flatten whole towns in Bicol and volcanic avalanches from Mount Pinatubo could bury entire towns in Pampanga and Zambales.
“Each year, about 20 tropical cyclones enter our country,” says Rene Paciente, chief of the weather forecasting and warming system of Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). Fortunately, only 6 to 9 of these tropical cyclones make landfall.
If Filipinos had not devoid their mountains of forests, no super typhoon would be too much a problem. Houses could be strengthened to make them stand against 200-kilometer-per-hour winds and farms could be diked to keep of excess surface overflow.
“Trees are one of nature’s most efficient weapons of soil defense and are used to tie down steep hillsides, check the growth of big gullies, stabilize unsteady stream banks and screen cultivated fields from harmful winds,” said Roy C. Alimoane, the director of the Davao-based Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center.
But the mountains are bald in large patches in almost all parts of the country. With thin forests tying down the mountain soil, floods are inevitable.
A really big flood can cause billions of pesos in damage to agriculture, infrastructure, loss of productivity in industry and commerce, not to mention loss of human lives. Congested urban centers like Metro Manila could stand still for days.
“With too much rain and floods, agriculture production especially in flood-prone areas will be adversely affected with physical and economic losses,” pointed out Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero, a national scientist and former head of Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development. “Floods will wash away crops, hasten soil erosion and increase crop spoilage due to poor storage and distribution problems.”
The Department of Health said floods will accelerate food-borne and water-borne diseases. “Flooding can contaminate the public water through the disruption of water purification and sewage disposal systems, rupture of underground pipelines and storage tanks,” the health department said.
Using contaminated water can cause a wide spectrum of illnesses, among them: acute gastroenteritis, dysentery, typhoid fever, cholera, and hepatitis A. “Foods that may have been in contact with contaminated floodwater should not be eaten,” the health department advised.
In addition, there is an increase of leptospirosis cases after heavy rains or flooding incidents. This livestock disease transmissible to many may be acquired through wading in water contaminated with urine of infected animal.
Mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria also rise with the increase in mosquito breeding grounds. And with the cold weather also come airborne diseases like influenza, which spread fast in congested areas such as Metro Manila’s inner cities.
Because of these projected economic and health problems, PAGASA said that flood damage mitigation and protection should be a concern not only during the disaster but should be practiced before, during and after the occurrence of a flood. As such, it issues the following flood safety rules:
Before the flood, a person must find out how often his location is likely to be flooded. He should know the flood warning system (issued by PAGASA) in the community and inform the family about it. The head of the family must know the daily weather condition. He must designate an evacuation area for his family and the livestock. In addition, he must assign family members instruction and responsibilities according to an evacuation plan.
In addition, people are advised to keep a stock of food which requires little cooking and refrigeration before the flood. The following must be kept: transistorized radio and flash light with spare batteries, emergency cooking equipment, candles, matches, first aid kit, and water.
When warned of flood, everyone must watch for rapidly rising flood waters. The family should listen to the radio for emergency instructions. If the head of the family finds it necessary to evacuate, then he must move them to a safe area before access is cut off by flood waters. However, it is wise to turn off electricity at the main switch in the building before evacuating. “Also lock your house before leaving,” the PAGASA suggested.
During the flood, the PAGASA advised to avoid areas subject to sudden flooding. It cautions: do not attempt to cross rivers of flowing streams where water is above the knee; beware of water-covered roads and bridges; eat only well-cooked foods; and drink only bottled, boiled or treated water.
After the flood, the weather bureau recommended that you re-enter the house with caution using flashlight. “Be alert for fire hazards like broken wires,” it warned. “Do not eat food and drink water until they have been checked for flood water contamination.”
The PAGASA also suggested that broken utility lines (electricity, water, gas and telephone) be reported to appropriate agencies/authorities. “Do not turn on the main switch or use appliances and other equipment until they have been checked by a competent electrician,” it said.
Now, for our weather forecast!