It’s now “alarmism” at its best and people don’t seem irked at all.
Though alarmists are usually scoffed at for creating and spreading alarm that could drive some people to panic and be irrational, the barrage of warnings on impending and potential dangers from approaching typhoons are proving to be very useful as loss of precious lives are kept to a minimum compared to previous calamities.
With back-to-back typhoons like “Karen” and “Lawin” hitting our country, it’s indeed prudent to not only hope for the best but also to be always prepared for the worst. Even when Typhoon Ferdie hit Batanes last month, the state of preparedness was apparent as no deaths were reported amid estimated damage of P445 million worth of houses, infrastructure, and agricultural products.
Living in stone houses, Batanes residents seldom worry about typhoons. But with the widespread destruction, longtime residents view “Ferdie” as among the strongest to hit in recent memory. Its awesome power was also felt in southeastern China, next to be hit by “Ferdie” after it left PAR, and the Xinhua news agency dubbed it “the most powerful to hit Fujian province in at least 67 years.”
Our resilience and collective strength in facing and tackling daunting odds has now been strengthened with a mindset of aiming for “zero-casualty” as much as possible in every typhoon. We have become a people capable of being dutiful to put into action the painful lessons learned in 2013 from the strongest-ever typhoon to hit land in the course of recorded human history.
That the life-changing lessons imparted by Super Typhoon Yolanda (a.k.a. Haiyan), which left about 6,000 dead, have been embedded into the national consciousness became obvious a year later when Typhoon Ruby hit. Warnings that “Ruby” could be “Yolanda-like” were enough to spur people along its path into a frenzy of preparations in their homes, including trooping voluntarily to evacuation sites.
Dubbed by a United Nations agency official as “one of the largest peacetime evacuations in Philippine history,” the exodus of about a million people to safer areas was brought about by efforts of the national and local governments going to great lengths in rounding up people from areas at risk. “People did not need much convincing to move to safety,” a social welfare official said.
That people responded well and willingly complied with evacuation orders, and authorities had prepared everything from food packs to medical aid to rescue equipment was a sign that a “culture of preparedness” had already set in.
The head of the Geneva-based UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlstrom, said then that the work of local and national officials “was further evidence of Asia’s leadership role in reducing mortality and tackling economic losses from disasters.”
“We have been telling this story since the Indian Ocean tsunami 10 years ago that nations and communities have the power to reduce their losses if they are well-organized, understand the nature of risk and develop the capacity to deliver early warnings and evacuate groups at risk ahead of the disaster event,” she said.
We have gotten a long way indeed. The times before “Yolanda” were terrible: Typhoon Pablo—adjudged the world’s deadliest catastrophe in 2012 by US-based Impact Forecasting—battered Mindanao and left 1,901 people dead or missing. A year earlier, Typhoon Sendong also hit Mindanao, killing more than a thousand people. And also earlier was Typhoon Ondoy that gave people in Metro Manila, particularly in Marikina, lessons to remember.
The worst experiences can bring out the best. And being in close proximity to the Pacific Ocean where most typhoons are formed, the best preparations spell the difference between life and death.