Sunday, July 20, 2014

Typhoon country

This is my column today, July 20, 2014.

I still don’t know exactly how our weather bureau people pick the local names of typhoons. I am told that they asked people to submit possible names with Filipino flavor in them a few years ago.  They presumably picked names at random.  But how is Glenda, or for that matter, Henry (the name given to the typhoon that has entered the country’s area of responsibility Friday) distinctly Filipino? I can’t believe these names were thought out by Filipinos unless of course some hapless individual out there happened to have a mother-in-law with that name and thought naming a typhoon after her would be appropriate.  But I guess most people have simply given up trying to put some sense into the way we baptize typhoons; perhaps because a typhoon by any other name would still wreck havoc.
And so it came to pass that Glenda barreled through Luzon Wednesday - quickly but ferociously - leaving behind a swathe of destruction.  The weather bureau people said she would descend upon Metro Manila between 6:00 in the morning and 12:00 noon.  We used to kid about how our meteorologists basically look out the window when making weather predictions. But for the very first time in a very long while, their prediction was correct.  I woke up to rattling windows, howling winds, and the sound of solid objects being borne aloft and brought crashing into walls and concrete.  I grew up in Eastern Visayas which was visited by typhoons periodically, but Glenda still had me worried.  The last time I witnessed nature’s fury in broad daylight was when Milenyo visited the country almost a decade ago.  By some coincidence, Glenda and Milenyo basically followed the same path, wrecked havoc at daytime, and unearthed centuries-old trees and power lines to the ground.
By noontime, Glenda was well on her way towards the West Philippine Sea and the task of trying to restore some semblance of order got underway.  As usual, media reported on the sensational aspects of the phenomenon – the number of lives lost, the cost of damage, the sad stories of the wet and hungry and homeless.  But except in areas where electricity has not been restored, people have bounced back and seemed to have cast their woes to misfortune. The much-vaunted resilience of Filipinos has been tested once again. 
Yet again, we were reminded of how puny we all are in the face of Mother Nature’s fury.  Once again, Metro Manila was virtually shut down.  Power went out, communication lines went dead, and systems went kaput.  The very same things happened when Milenyo struck almost a decade ago but apparently no one remembered anymore because it seemed the baseline for restoration efforts went back to zero. 
One wishes that some lessons could be gleaned from what happened.  But going into reflection, deriving lessons and making resolutions out of our collective experiences are not among our strong suits as a people.
The state of our disaster preparedness remains bad.  Simple things like cutting down overgrown branches of trees in major thoroughfare that could potentially crash into power lines, or for that matter, preparing enough relief goods to feed people in relocation centers remained undone.  We’ve been talking about setting standards for infrastructures that could withstand winds of up to 180 kilometers per hour for the longest time now, but apparently nothing has been done to translate the rhetoric into action because many newly-built structures still crumbled last week.  The list could go on and on. 
But then again, most of us are just happy to have survived. 

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