Yolanda made disaster preparedness top of mind

Yolanda made disaster preparedness top of mind

/ 05:54 AM November 09, 2023

Yolanda made disaster preparedness top of mind

STILL FRESH IN MEMORY The mass grave for victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” at Holy Cross Memorial Gardens in Tacloban City is sprinkled with holy water by church workers on Wednesday, the 10th anniversary of the tragedy. —NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

(Last of two parts)

CEBU CITY, Cebu, Philippines — Ten years have passed but Nov. 8 remains a painful day for 31-year-old Jinri Layese.


Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan), which ravaged many parts of the Visayas on that day in 2013, was the reason why he was not able to finish school.


Layese had to work to help his family as life became difficult after the monster typhoon destroyed their home in Bantayan town on Bantayan Island in the northern tip of Cebu, one of the worst-hit localities in the province.

“[Every Nov. 8], I am reminded of my dreams that were shattered by Yolanda. I asked myself what would life be if I did not stop schooling in order to rebuild our house and help my family recover from the devastation brought by that super-typhoon,” he told the Inquirer in Cebuano.

Layese, who now sells “lugaw” (porridge) in their neighborhood, said Yolanda might have brought misery to so many people but it also awakened the government and the public about the need to be always ready for disasters. “Whether we like it or not, there will be typhoons in our lives. That is why we need to be prepared at all times,” he added.

Yolanda has indeed served as a lesson to everyone — from national government officials down to the ordinary folk.

A visible impact of the tragedy’s aftermath, according to local officials, is that people, especially in areas hit by Yolanda, need no more convincing to evacuate in times of calamities.

“Ten years later, our people have learned from Yolanda in terms of what to do before a disaster strikes. We don’t have to order them to transfer or relocate to safer structure,” said Tedence Jopson, assistant chief of the City Housing and Development Office in Tacloban City, Leyte province, which bore the brunt of Yolanda’s wrath 10 years ago that killed more than 2,200 people in the city.


Several homeowners also built additional floors to their houses as protection against severe flooding, Jopson noted.

The same is true for survivors in northern Iloilo towns that were battered by Yolanda.

According to Josefa Eyao, 61, whose family has been relocated and now lives in a housing project in Concepcion, Iloilo, their family is now better prepared.

“We’re still traumatized, so even with light rain, I tell my children to be prepared because we might have to evacuate,” she said.

Lessons learned

In Tacloban, the city government has designated a no-build zone for houses 40 meters from the shoreline. Those areas are now classified as danger zones due to the deadly storm surge in 2013.

At the height of Yolanda, the city’s Barangay 88 was engulfed in a two-story high wall of water from Cancabato Bay, destroying everything on its path and killing about a thousand villagers.

In its aftermath, a tide embankment project had been planned for several areas in Leyte to protect coastal communities from storm surges.

The project, which cost P12 billion, was started during the term of President Benigno Aquino III and would have been finished before his successor, Rodrigo Duterte, stepped down in 2022. But it has yet to be completed due partly to the refusal of some homeowners near the shoreline to leave their properties.

Another factor was that the project scope kept expanding. From the original 27.3 kilometers, it now covered 38 km to include Tolosa, the hometown of former first lady Imelda Marcos, mother of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Edgar Tabacon, Department of Public Works and Highways Easter Visayas director, said the tide embankment sections in Palo and Tanauan towns were about 60 percent done.

The National Housing Authority (NHA), on the other hand, had built houses designed to withstand extreme weather conditions.

It was also necessary to include local communities in planning for future disasters as well as to improve coordination between government agencies and nongovernmental organizations to provide stable shelters to victims, said Rizalino Cabahug, manager of NHA in Central Visayas region.

READ: Work not yet done in helping Yolanda victims – Marcos

Altered landscape

“The lessons learned from this disaster have contributed to improved disaster response and typhoon-resilient housing units in the Philippines, especially in typhoon-prone regions,” he said.

Since Yolanda has been acknowledged by experts as a climate change-induced typhoon, the provincial government of Iloilo has integrated a climate resiliency program into its central planning.

During Yolanda, 220 people died, 14 went missing and 3,881 were injured in the province, particularly in northern Iloilo.

Officials also started noticing the telltale signs of the impact of climate change as local shorelines have receded over the years, and floods have worsened, hitting previously unaffected areas.

Iloilo provincial administrator Raul Banias recalled that when he bought his house in Concepcion town, it was far from the shoreline.

“But through the years, water has slowly risen even during low tide,” said Banias, who lost his house during Yolanda.

“Floods have gotten worse in [the towns of] Ajuy, Balasan, Batad, Concepcion, Sara and even up to the central and southern parts of Iloilo. We’ve experienced this already around two to three months ago, when Oton and Pavia [towns, which weren’t typically flooded], experienced their highest floodwater levels, even worse than Typhoon ‘Frank’ [in 2008],” he added.

READ: Yolanda survivors, environment still cry for help – Diocese of Borongan

Forecast change

The state weather bureau also changed the way it categorized typhoons following Yolanda.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) had to enhance its information, communication, and education campaign to provide the public with a clear understanding that a storm surge is considered to be the deadliest hazard associated with typhoons.

To improve its public information system, Pagasa recalibrated the categories of incoming typhoons, said Alfredo Quiblat Jr., chief of the Pagasa Mactan station in Cebu.

Before Yolanda, Pagasa had only three categories for tropical cyclones: tropical depression, tropical storm, and typhoon.

Based on categories applied at the time, the bureau still classified Yolanda as a typhoon despite having sustained winds of up to 235 km per hour.

“It was the wake-up period that after Yolanda we included supertyphoons as one of the categories. It was only in 2015 that we modified our categories and the turning point was Yolanda,” Quiblat said.

The new typhoon scales, he said, would help people understand, more precisely and accurately, the extent of damage a weather disturbance could bring.

Banias recalled that during Yolanda, there was a lack of knowledge of the technical terms being used by those communicating about the weather.

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“Despite the warnings of Pagasa, and even other weather stations and sources, we realized that we were not prepared for [Yolanda], the speed of the wind, and the storm surges. We’ve kept warning people to evacuate to higher places, but they didn’t really understand the [impact] of a storm surge. That was the most important lesson we learned,” said Banias.

TAGS: Disaster preparedness, Haiyan, Supertyphoon Yolanda

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