Post Typhoon Bopha/Pablo: Immediate observations and reflections

Posted: December 6, 2012 by Steven Forrest in Topical

(This article was written by Hannah Tankard on the 5th December 2012 from San Francisco in the Philippines. Hannah is currently interning with the Red Cross and is helping with their emergency response to the disaster)

It is difficult to describe what Veruela looked like today, so here is an attempt: like a bomb site; a scene from a horror movie about a wide-ranging exploded nuclear power station; or perhaps imagine a scene from the movie The Day After Tomorrow. Homes were destroyed, whole forests flattened, there was infrastructural damage, landslides, flooding, no electricity and many, many, many, vulnerable people evacuated, some without food. It is clear from this one municipality alone that immediate relief is a must. With the Red Cross team I was with today we went to a barangay quite remote from the centre of this town. The relief effort has begun when we started to help out with emergency food. My personal contribution felt so limited considering all the devastation surrounding me.

Today I was with the Red Cross in the Province of Agusan del Sur helping to assess the numbers of people affected by yesterday’s typhoon. Within about 15km of where I am staying in San Francisco there is some damage, such as some fallen trees and a few collapsed houses but thankfully, no casualties.

In this area I witnessed some excellent disaster response from the towns including Bunawan. In this town they had a proactive update on every person affected by the typhoon including the numbers in evacuation centres. Bunawan had huge teams calculating how many were affected, injured or missing, whilst another team was bagging and sorting food relief to be taken to the barangays (similar to the size of a medium village). However, despite a few people being injured, and a lot of flooding adding to last week’s flooding in some areas, overall Bunawan was prepared for the disaster and was spared the worst of the typhoon.

Typhoon Pablo saved his strength for more southern areas of Agusan del Sur. The Municipality of Veruela, about 50km from where I am staying, was shown no remorse by the Signal 3 typhoon (equivalent to a category 4 hurricane). As we got closer to the town, we could not believe what we were seeing. The permanent Red Cross staff for this area told me they had never seen such damage before in this area.

Never have I seen so much destruction and devastation in my life. Typhoon Pablo has hit this area of Mindanao hard. Although early warning systems from the government, forecasters and humanitarian organisations have, without doubt, saved lives there was still significant damage in the area. The town’s report so far has indicated that 4 people are dead, 4 are missing and a further 24 are injured. The typhoon has left thousands affected, many homeless and many currently without food. The evacuation centres are doing a superb job for hundreds of families and were well prepared. However, more remote baragays, such as Sinagong, are in need of more relief and it is unclear how long their current food supplies will last.

Bopha/Pable will be called a “natural” disaster. However, what was so evident today was that it was the most vulnerable people, in this vulnerable area of a vulnerable country that were most affected. There was no way that their fragile houses were going to be able to withstand winds of up to 220km per hour. When the typhoon hit yesterday I simply had no idea of the shear devastation that was being caused a matter of 50km away from where I was. What I can say though, is the people Veruela were helping each other, houses are beginning to be rebuilt and despite all the damage, there were smiles. Perhaps this is the Filipino way, to be calm, and to smile. I even heard someone repeat the country’s catch phrase “It is more fun in the Philippines”.

If today has shown me anything, it is that we need a concerted effort to keep reducing people’s vulnerability to hazards. The Philippines is no stranger to hazards and consequently its early warning systems have saved lives, but additional measures will be needed to ensure that homes and infrastructure will not be destroyed in the future. Perhaps this can start with the rehabilitation process, which will clearly take months from what I saw in Veruela today. If the rehabilitation process can build back better, than there is a hope that when a typhoon occurs again it will just be a blip, not a disaster.

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