New Typhoon a Test for Philippines’ Aquino

The Philippines, which was pasted with the most powerful typhoon in modern world history just 13 months ago, is about to get pasted again by another super storm, headed mostly for the same area where Yolanda/Haiyan killed at least 6,300 people, with 1,000 still missing.

Given the damage wreaked by Yolanda/Haiyan, the new storm will be a test of the credibility of President Benigno S. Aquino III’s government in making preparations to protect residents on the storm’s arrival.

The area – the Visayas island chain and Mindanao – has only partly recovered, a victim of Filipino government weakness, corruption and inefficiency. The regional government was wiped out by the storm and the central government has not been strong enough to take its place at the local level.

Tropical Storm Hagupit, which in the Philippines is to be known as Ruby, strengthened into a typhoon on Dec. 3 and is expected to become another super typhoon with maximum sustained winds up to 215 kph as it makes its way across the Philippine Sea. Storm surges up to 4 meters are expected.

Panic buying has set in in cities like Tacloban, the hardest hit, as residents fear what is coming. More than a year after Yolanda/Haiyan, almost 20,000 people are still living in tents in the city. Schools, which served as evacuation centers for the residents, have not been rebuilt, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The big concern is that temporary homes built in the wake of the 2013 disaster for thousands of people will not be sturdy enough to protect the residents.

This time, however, the government in Manila knows what’s coming. Nobody could have predicted Haiyan/Yolanda, which featured sustained winds up to 300 kph. Now they know. Authorities have begun to evacuate thousands of people who had moved back into flimsy shelters in the coastal communities that had been wiped out by Hiayan/Yolanda. Schools have been suspended.

“We cannot over-prepare for this, said Jerry Yaokasin, Tacloban’s vice mayor, adding that it is understandable that residents are stocking up on supplies. “People here are more cautious because of the trauma of last year," he said.

The Philippines is susceptible to 20 tropical storms a year, of which six to nine make landfall as typhoons. As global warming changes sea temperatures, they have been striking later in the year and moving progressively south across the globe. Two years ago today, Typhoon Bopha swept through communities on the southern island of Mindanao, where typhoons had largely been unheard of, leaving a trail of destruction in which more than 1,100 people died and the country’s tuna fleet was virtually demolished.

Last year, Naderev Sano, the Philippine climate chief, broke down in tears at a United Nations climate change event in Poland, demanding in an emotional appeal that the world do something about climate change, saying his brother had been caught in Haiyan/Yolanda.

"We can fix this. We can stop this madness. Right now, right here," he told delegates in Warsaw. But so far, his appeal has meant little as governments across the world have continued to dither.

The rebuilding job admittedly has been almost impossible to conceptualize. In Tacloban, then a city of 220,000 people, 90 percent of the structures were destroyed or damaged. In the wake of the storm, as many as 20,000 people simply left for good. Across the full region, 1.9 million people were made homeless and more than 6 million were temporarily displaced. The city of Catbalogan reported that its population more than doubled after the typhoon with the influx of refugees into the city.

If Hagupit/Ruby follows its present track and speed, it could make landfall in the eastern Visayas or Mindanao sometime this weekend. The Coast Guard has announced it is already on heightened alert as of Wednesday and will direct its attention to the eastern Visayas, southeastern Mindanao and along the eastern coast of the Bicol region. Coast Guard officials say they will be standing by with rescue and response personnel.

Travel disruptions are likely at airports and seaports throughout the Visayas and Mindanao over the weekend due to the typhoon. Flight cancellations and delays are also possible at Manila's airports, authorities said. Tacloban’s airport, built right at the water’s edge, was destroyed during last year’s storm.