On November 7th, 2013 Typhoon Haiyan made landfall on the eastern side of the Philippines. Regions, such as Tacloban were particularly punished as wind speeds reached an estimated 190mph and above. Those are faster winds speeds than most modern jet fighters need to achieve takeoff. The wind itself pushed a 17’ storm surge that for the most part reached in up to 50-miles inland (due in large part to the fact that most of the Philippines are at/near Sea Level) and caused such extensive damage that it’s impact will be calculated for years to come. (The Globe and Mail 2013) But if we remove ourselves emotionally from the tragedy, and examine the situation in an empirical manner, we can see the typhoon makes for an excellent case study into four major factors that the Philippine nation, or any society, will face in such a disaster.
Within the immediate impact of the typhoon, people were concerned with surviving the disaster itself. High wind speeds drove debris with enough force that anyone caught outside was almost assured to be injured in the typhoon. The wind also drove an immense storm surge that likely led to most cases of death from drowning. Indeed many of the estimated 10,000 dead will likely have been drawn back out to sea as the ocean waters receded; however, others were found littered throughout the streets and rural areas. (Mogato 2013) In addition the sheer level of destruction destroyed much of the island nation’s infrastructure limiting escape routes for refugees and means by the mlitary to send help. So the initial response of the society was merely survival from the threat/disaster – be it by moving inland, taking shelter in higher structures, or merely trying to stay ahead of the floodwaters.
Within the first 48-hours of the typhoon’s landfall, another more pressing disaster loomed as human and waste-water began contaminating limited sources of clean water and food. In addition, major population centers soon had to contend with the issue of rotting corpses buried under rubble, in the streets, as they decomposed. It is one of the few situations that could be adequately described as hell on earth. These conditions make the situation ripe for dysentery, cholera, and other water-borne diseases that can often predicate higher casualty numbers than those who die in the initial disaster itself. (Snyderman 2013) It is perhaps ironic that the same issues continue to plague the Haiti earthquake survivors from several years prior, despite the large international response and billions dumped into agencies like the Red Cross that only frittered away the funds into their own overhead.
The two near-term factors of incident survival and rising disease, complicated by extremely limited resources in food and water, led to the next major factor highlighted by the typhoon. Following the initial 48 hours, the international community began to see the first reported instances of looting and rising crime. Bare in mind it was likely happening before then, but it took only that long for it to reach news outlets. However, for the most part the rise in crime was likely attributable to the pressures brought on from lack in fresh water and food, and became more acute as people became increasingly desperate. (Reuters 2013) As the disaster unfolded, other day-to-day supplies, such as shelter and medicine, began to become more pressing as infections spread due to the unsanitary conditions and debris. (Lassy-Mäntyvaara 2013)
Lines of Resources
Lastly the other main element that continues to complicate disaster response is the damaged Philippine infrastructure. Roads are impassable, and in many instances, within the initial week and beyond, population centers remained cut off because there were insufficient military and first-responder resources at the time to clear the roads. Moreover, the only airport serving the Tacloban area became awash of refugees seeking to flee the aftermath, and limited air services had difficulty attempting to enter. Eventually, while the needs for the Tacloban area were addressed, outlying rural areas still remained cut off because the resources could not get out of the city, and the people became increasingly desperate. (Bodeen and Teves 2013) (Harlan 2013)
So What Does It All Mean?
Considering these four main elements of disaster survival, we can see that those factors have played out here in the United States as well – be it following a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or some other calamity. So the issue of pressures on immediate survival, contamination, crime, and resources are not solely faced in the Philippines. Pick any large-scale disaster in American history and all these elements have been in play. Individual consideration is warranted as to how to overcome these problems and ensure that you and your family come out the opposite side intact. Having an escape/evasion plan that is not only readily available, but understood through discussing it and practice can be critical. Preparedness in stockpiling food, medicine, water, and other essentials can help address short-term food supply disruptions and will ensure that you will never have to deal with the stress of considering what to do while your family starves. Maintaining your situational awareness during this time is paramount as there will be those without, growing increasingly desperate, and will not hesitate to take by any means what they deem is needed. So not only are you required to take adequate measures to establish security for your family, but also you will need to recognize that your own normalcy bias will have to be readjusted for life post-disaster in a world that is no longer “as it was” – and it may require what was previously only considered “extreme measures” become the standard. Lastly, recognize that services and support may not be easily accessible; be it either to reach you, or by you reaching them. Statistically, if you have prepared sufficiently that you can endure the post-disaster aftermath then some serious consideration should be given to “bugging-in” that is to say holding down where you are more comfortable and prepared vice departing into the unknown. Disasters in the United States have been quickly addressed mainly because of our road infrastructure and airfields. However, if the damage is extensive those routes may not be available to displaced homeowners and first responders. What is happening in the Philippines is the hallmark of human tragedy, but that does not exclude the fact that it provides a clear window into how societies function in the face of disasters. Take those observations as lessons learned and apply them to your own life, and how you can ensure you and your family’s survival. While such disasters cannot ever be prevented, they can be recognized for the threats they represent and prepare for tomorrow, today.
Bodeen, Christopher, and Oliver Teves. Philippines Caught By Surprise By Typhoon Haiyan Storm Surges. November 11, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/11/philippines-typhoon-haiyan-storm-surges_n_4253881.html (accessed November 16, 2013).
Harlan, Chico. Relief is slow to reach victims of Philippine typhoon; looters steal medical supplies. November 11, 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/relief-is-slow-to-reach-victims-of-philippine-typhoon-looters-steal-medical-supplies/2013/11/11/a8b32726-4b1c-11e3-be6b-d3d28122e6d4_story.html (accessed November 16, 2013).
Lassy-Mäntyvaara, Johanna. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Cresent. November 13, 2013. http://www.ifrc.org/en/news-and-media/news-stories/asia-pacific/philippines/typhoon-haiyan-survivors-need-water-tarpaulins-medications-food-63732/ (accessed November 16, 2013).
Mogato, Manuel. Typhoon Haiyan Death Toll Tops 10,000, According To Official Estimates. November 10, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/10/haiyan-death-toll_n_4249807.html (accessed November 16, 2013).
Reuters. http://www.cnbc.com/id/101187134. November 13, 2013. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-philippines-typhoon-haiyan-20131113,0,6500817.story (accessed November 16, 2013).
Snyderman, Nancy. Health crisis erupts in Philippines following deadly typhoon Haiyan. November 11, 2013. http://www.cnbc.com/id/101187134 (accessed November 16, 2013).
The Globe and Mail. Super typhoon Haiyan may be strongest ever recorded. November 10, 2013. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/super-typhoon-haiyan-may-be-strongest-ever-recorded/article15371595/ (accessed November 16, 2013).