Typhoon Closes in on the Philippines: Natural Disasters in Developing Nations

Typhoon Haiyan is being called one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded and it is headed straight for the central islands of the Philippines, a developing country east of Vietnam in the South China Sea. Yolanda, as it is called there, has recently made contact with land on the island of Samar and is expected to make its way across the island and neighboring island Leyte.

tacloban city
Tacloban City, Leyte

An Infamous Location

The cluster of over 7,000 islands is filled with peaceful, fun loving people that enjoy sharing food with visitors and a passion for beauty contests. Unfortunately, the islands are more well known for their unlucky position. They are pummeled time and time again by the vicious unleashing of Mother Nature. Less than two months ago, the streets of the capital city Manila, were flooded with chest deep water. People waded down sidewalks and rafted through streets. Over 600,000 people were affected and seven were killed.

This is not an isolated incident. Manilla has flooded before and will flood again, and earthquakes level cities in this developing nation. Now perhaps the most perfect storm the world has ever seen is swirling toward them with winds up to 235 mph.

How Do They Prepare

A typhoon is never good news but in a country where the vast majority of the population lives at less than 160 feet above sea level and many live in shacks made of bamboo and planks the storm can wield an even more powerful blow. Where does a villager living in a nipa hut go? How do they hear about the storm and get to protection in time? Will they have any access to supplies should they make it to a safe location and what do they do when it is all over?

Preparation measures have been going on since Tuesday local time (which is 13 hours later than Eastern Standard Time). Since the people have been hit so hard and so many times, battling storms is a normal part of life. People in Manilla have life rafts in their apartments and huts are built on stilts in the rice paddies of rural areas. Local businesses and schools are closed and people are stacking sandbags. Farmers were ordered to harvest crops, secure their livestock, and evacuate. Trees have been trimmed and emergency supplies have been delivered.

Communication seems to be widespread. Pagasa, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration ran by the government, is providing hourly updates on their Facebook page which has 278,000 followers, but what if you don’t have internet like over 60 percent of the country.

There has been negative responses in the past from both the government and the people. Some feel the government does not do enough while the government has stated that too often their warnings go unheeded. They are hoping that this time is different.

President Benigno Aquino has ordered evacuations and has air force cargo planes, military helicopters, and navy ships on standby, but how much can they do in country with nowhere to go?

In Haiyan’s Path

Nearly 6,000 people have been evacuated from flood and mudslide prone areas in southern Leyte. Tacloban City, one of the most urbanized areas of the two islands, with a population of around 220,000 sits in the direct path of the storm. Over 3,800 people have been evacuated from the city alone.

Inside the Cangumbang Community Center
Inside the Cangumbang Community Center

The storm surge, which is the rise of the sea that can come with a storm, is expected to reach a height of nearly 23 feet on eastern Samar. Yet, thousands are taking refuge in the Astro Dome, Tacloban City’s Convention Center, located directly on the water. Seems counterintuitive, but it is one of the sturdiest structures in the city, has easy access, and with such strong rain and winds, high hills don’t offer better protection. Even their best option seems bad. The lowest areas of Tacloban City sit at barely 7 feet above sea level.

High Hopes

President Aquino is calling for zero casualties and helicopters are standing by, but it is impossible to overlook the lack of structures throughout the area. One community center completed only a few months ago, sits in the village of Cangumbang, about an hour outside of Tacloban City. The center in the small village, surrounded by rice paddies and bamboo bridges, will serve as an emergency evacuation center for everyone in the area and will be inundated with people. The center sits on concrete stilt at just over 12 feet high which is the same height of the expected flood waters.

A Rough Year

The Philippines have already been hit by three typhoons and a severe earthquake this year. It is normal for a couple dozen major storms to hit each year and last year’s strongest, Typhoon Bopha, killed 1,100 people.

Cangumbang Village
Cangumbang Village

GoAbroad.com has its second office in the heart of Tacloban City. All U.S. staff have visited the location and several staff members from the Philippines have been able to visit Fort Collins, CO. Close bonds and connections, both personal and professional, have been built and our hearts are with our colleagues at this time.

Look for an update of the storm tomorrow to hear about the outcome and how you can offer support.

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