Lessons learned after super typhoon Megi
I didn’t really know what to expect on the eight-hour drive up to Isabela province in the northeast of Luzon island after it was hit by Megi, a super typhoon with winds in excess of 250 kph (155 mph).
I knew it was a strong typhoon – the strongest in the world this year – but even so, standing in Cauyan town, I was shocked. The scale of devastation was enormous and it’s obvious why a state of calamity has been declared.
As a Filipino, I’ve experienced many typhoons – they are a fact of life here, with more than 20 a year hitting the country on average. Last year, Manila was flooded by a once-in-a-lifetime storm. But this was different.
Thousands of houses and huts were knocked down. People searched through the remains of where they once lived, looking for their valuables, their mementos, and anything that could be salvaged to use in the rebuilding process.
Cars were blown to the sides of roads and motorized three-wheelers had been hurled into flattened rice fields. Across the northern provinces more than 350,000 tonnes of rice, about five percent of the country’s December quarter harvest, had been destroyed.
Nothing was spared – schools, government buildings and churches carry scars of Megi, or Juan as the storm was named in the Philippines. Fallen trees lie across roads, fields and houses. Power lines were blown down, so there is no power, and communication channels were knocked out.
Coastal towns were cut off completely. It would take two days for disaster officials to get access to the affected region and the story there is the same. Massive losses of housing and widespread devastation.
On Thursday, President Benigno Aquino will make an inspection by air and help distribute relief goods to typhoon victims. The government says nearly 1.7 million people were directly affected by Megi and the bill for the damage to agriculture and infrastructure is estimated at 8.3 billion pesos (nearly $200 million).
Megi killed at least 33 Filipinos. So far, quite amazingly given the destruction I saw, there have been only three deaths recorded in the eastern provinces where the typhoon first hit, and the national total is also relatively low.
In July, a smaller typhoon changed direction unexpectedly and hit Manila. More than 100 people died and power supplies to the city were cut. Aquino sacked the chief forecaster and admonished the emergency services for their preparation.
This time things were different. In the days leading up to Megi’s expected impact, there were regular updates on its path and strength from weather forecasters. Storm warnings were raised early and disaster management agencies prepared evacuation centers and people in at-risk areas were evacuated.
Maybe lessons were learned.