“If there’s only one earth how come we had the typhoon in Tacloban, but not here in Manila?”, asked Mika, leaving her host dumbfounded. The 5-year old Haiyan survivor, along with her mother and three other siblings, evacuated to the Philippine Capital Region six days after the typhoon hit her town. She had experienced the intensity of Typhoon Haiyan’s destructive force, the wind that rendered her family homeless , and the flood that killed thousands in her hometown. She saw and smelled the rotting bodies as she and her family walked the streets of Tacloban, looking for a bus ride to Manila. They had waited to no avail, for a C-130 flight out of Tacloban, leaving them thirsty and exposed to the elements for almost twelve hours.
Mika and the rest in her household were among the lucky ones. Their community, which is about five kilometers inland, was spared of the storm surge that inundated those areas closer to the sea. However, the winds packing a maximum of 314 kilometers per hour, blew away most roofs, and the heavy rains of up to 30 millimeters per hour soaked everyone and everything in her neighborhood.
In Mika’s one Earth, the deadly supertyphoon started more than 3,000 kilometers east of the Philippines, giving it plenty of water over which to strengthen. (See “Clues to Supertyphoon’s Ferocity in the Western Pacific,” by Dennis Normile, Science , Vol. 342, p.1027, 11/29/2013.) With the storm moving over the warm ocean at a very fast clip of 32 kilometers per hour, researcher I-I Lin of the National Taiwan University likened Haiyan to a car moving without a break. It was moving before the storm’s churn could be slowed down by pulling deeper and cooler water to the surface. Lin explained that “the warmer the subsurface layer, the faster the moving speed, the smaller the cooling effect.”
About the storm surge, there was mention of the strong easterly wind that caused the piling up of water in western Pacific, where the sea-level rise over a 20-year period exceeds 20 centimeters. “It is likely that the elevated sea level contributed to the flood and inundation problems in the Philippines,” Bo Qiu of the University of Hawaii, Manoa was quoted saying. (Ibid. Normille, 2013)
With the official death toll from the Leyte and Samar islands almost 7,000 now, there’s a consensus among the survivors and with some Philippine Government officials that Tacloban City and neighboring cities were not prepared for the impact of the super typhoon. Warnings of storm surge were not fully understood, not even by the Mayor of Tacloban City nor by federal government officials like the Secretary of Interior and the Secretary of National Defense. These officials sheltered in buildings less than a 500 meters from the ocean, rendering them too shocked and weakened to lead an effective rescue and relief operations at the most critical period. Anderson Cooper was spot on in his observation of November 13, 2013,five days after Haiyan made its deadly landfall in Tacloban. “There is no real evidence of organized recovery or relief, ” he said on his tweet.
Among the first signs that things have improved came through Mika’s Uncle who wrote in an email of December 13, 2013:
“I survived. My family survived from the strongest typhoon in the world ever recorded – Typhoon Haiyan , locally known as Typhoon Yolanda. After a little over a month my family is just fine. For three weeks my family stayed in a Barangay hall which served as the evacuation center.
We lost everything in that horrible typhoon but we are all alive. I only saved the important documents such as live birth certificates and other important matters. I was able to save my CPU and the monitor but not the printer. Our evacuation center was already congested.
The last time I opened my email was November 6. I informed you that a typhoon was coming and will hit Eastern Visayas. I was already monitoring that typhoon a week before the landfall. I knew it was powerful but the damage and the number of casualties were beyond my expectations. Maybe it’s because of the storm surge that killed thousands in Waray region. Fortunately, Tolosa had only 18 casualties because it was not hit by the storm surge.
I received a US AID tent – a huge one – thru the effort of the Catholic Relief Services(CRS). We also received lot of relief goods coming from different countries and from the local organizations. I already have a cell phone loading business(Smart & Globe). My family is okay and GOD BLESS US ALL.
I have to cut this message because my time is limited. I am just renting in an internet Cafe’. Thank you again.”
Mika continues to stay in her temporary home in Metro Manila. She and her three siblings are back in school. While she initially had challenges adjusting to the shift in medium of instruction from English to Tagalog, she has reported that she’s starting to understand her lessons a little bit better nowadays. Her mom has found a job several miles away in the big city, with a three-hour commute every day. Her other cousins who have evacuated to Manila as well have since returned to Tacloban, where their home was among the very few that sustained the strong winds but were spared from the storm surge.
As the public and non-profit sectors talk about rebuilding the region ravaged by Haiyan, both environmental and engineering solutions to mitigating the effects of storm surge on densely populated coastal zones must be part of the conversation. A good resource are The Dutch Dialogues workshops initiated, in connection with the rebuilding efforts post Hurricane Katrina. These workshops involved Dutch engineers, urban designers, landscape architects, city planners and soils/hydrology experts and, their Louisiana counterparts.
Among those initiating a conversation on a post-Haiyan rebuilding effort is the United Architects of the Philippines,which, as recent news releases have it, are offering their pro-bono services on designing typhoon resistant homes. In a forum
held on November 20, 2013, they identified at least 8 features of a typhoon-resistant home: (1) Highly replicable components; (2) Durable materials – e.g., concrete; (3) 4-side slope roofs; (4) stilts; (5) tempered glass with protective film or sticker; (6) storm shutters; (7) safe elevated location; and (8) revised building standards.