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Waiting for Yolanda

/ 06:43 AM November 10, 2013

It was advertised as a supertyphoon, a world record for this year. CNN compared it to a category 5 hurricane similar to Katrina which devastated New York. The prediction for storms of this strength is that it would lay a swathe of catastrophic destruction in its path. Certainly, it would be something requiring preparation and deep respect.

But for his children, the eldest being only 16 years of age, it would also be the first major typhoon of their lives. Yolanda would bring with it a mixture of fear and excitement. And the excitement begins from the period of preparation. Trees have to be trimmed, containers bought and installed, food and water stored. Do we have a good supply of food, candles and flashlights? Do we need to tie down anything? Windows fixed? There was the Thursday rush to do the last things, half a day’s holiday for workers to go home and prepare for the unknown.

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This would have been a prelude, a rehearsal even, if you will, to Armageddon should it ever come. There was a bit of tension in the air at the grocery stores and in the streets as people scurried about not wanting to get caught on the road when Yolanda hit. But as things turned out, we knew exactly where the typhoon was, when it would hit and where. We got that from the news, from the Internet, from the social networks. The only real question was how bad it would be? We only had an ambiguous and untested theory of that. A computer model at best.

For Cebu at least, it wasn’t all that bad. It might have been that the winds were not really that strong though this is less likely than that we were better prepared this time. Nitang and Ruping were supertyphoons with winds in the vicinity of 200 kilometers per hour. Yolanda was in that vicinity also. But its eye never passed through Cebu City itself.

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And city residents prepared better this time around. All these institutional efforts at disaster-preparedness might actually be working. Yolanda got into people’s conversations long before it actually came. People weighed down their roofs, tied down anything that might get carried off by the wind and trimmed branches off trees that might fall onto houses and electrical lines. And so it is possible all these had an effect of keeping down the ultimate damage. This as well as the fact that the typhoon hit us in the middle of the day. It might have been worse if  Yolanda had  struck  while it was still dark.

As of this writing, electricity hasn’t been restored in  many parts of the city despite the absence of fallen electrical posts this time around. And so the absence of clear news from elsewhere, especially Northern Cebu and Tacloban, which as estimates have it suffered much worse than Cebu City although the news so far are  sketchy. Perhaps  Veco utility engineers are out there helping.

Here in Cebu City, the attitude gleaned from conversations was that Yolanda was a bit of a disappointment. We expected much worse for all the preparations we made. Which attitude only tells us how effective those preparations have been. It should always be that way. One should take it from an “old” man who has gone through Nitang and Ruping. Such an old man would say, after Yolanda: Yes, we have been quite lucky! It could have been much worse. But believe me, you do not like that.

Here in the city, that sense of relief was obvious soon after 12 noon when the winds reached their peak. This wind packed quite a punch but it passed by very quickly as was predicted. Unlike Nitang and Ruping when high winds blew for hours causing much more destruction.

Yolanda blew and passed, its passing made evident by an almost abrupt slackening of the wind and a general brightening of the skies. And then he knew it would not be that bad after all. Even as the wind was dying down, his children found excuses against his better judgement to go outside catching for themselves a final glimpse and feel of nature’s magnificence. Rain and wind such as they will seldom ever get in their lifetimes, thankfully.

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TAGS: disaster, Super Typhoon Yolanda, Typhoon
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