Hurricane Ondoy. What the hell happened?

(Image Source: Times Online)

Typhoon Ondoy is one of the worst disasters to hit the Philippines in years.  I believe I also read that this was the worst typhoon in 42 years.  It also raises a lot of questions about why there was so little warning, why there was such a poor response, and what’s going to happen to all of the victims.  It also illustrates the usefulness of social media in spreading information and requesting help during national emergencies.

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Why Was There No Warning?

Typhoon Ondoy didn’t just sneak up on the Philippines.  There was plenty of warning.  PAGASA had even issued warnings that there could be flash flooding and landslides and people in low lying areas may be affected.  So, where did communication break down?  Why weren’t people alerted?  How much of this could’ve been avoided had people been properly evacuated in advance?

Some of the news I’ve read on the internet has compared Typhoon Ondoy to Hurricane Katrina in the US.  There was massive destruction and the local population was caught totally unprepared.  I even saw a few Tweets claiming that Ondoy dropped more rain than Katrina, and that the hurricane category was higher.  I don’t know about that for sure, but Ondoy was definitely a monster of a storm!

Why Was There Such A Poor Response?

Filipinos didn’t receive proper warning before the storm, but on top of that they received an inadequate emergency response as well.  The Philippines is in an area that sees multiple typhoons every year, and flooding isn’t a pink elephant, it’s something that should be expected.  So, where were the amphibious vehicles?  Surely the military has some.  The Philippines is an island chain after all.  Where were the boats?  I remember seeing lots of complaints about the lack of boats.

Some blogs and news sites I’ve read concerning the poor government response to Ondoy are calling for a Senate review, similar to what happened in the US after Katrina, to analyze and improve obviously defective emergency response systems and institutions.  That would be a good move in my opinion.  In this day and age, with the technology we have available to us, there should be no reason for people to have to spend days sitting on their roofs waiting for help to arrive.

Social Media, The Unexpected Hero of the Ondoy Catastrophe

My wife and I actually didn’t know anything about Ondoy until the flooding was well underway.  I believe it was late Saturday afternoon when my wife saw an update on her Facebook claiming there was flooding in the Philippines.  So, that’s when we started searching and, like many people, we used social media like Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, and YouTube to keep updated on the situation.  In fact, if it weren’t for social media, I don’t think we’d have ever known what was going on.

Many people complained that there wasn’t enough international coverage of such a massive event.  I’d have to agree.  If Ondoy was worse than Katrina, then it should have received more coverage than Katrina, which was in the news everywhere for quite a while.  Is it because of where the storm happened?  The value of a human life is the same, regardless of where that person is from, so I’m a bit disappointed with the traditional media response.

Through social media we saw everything from video of the flooding to calls for help.  That’s right!  People were using Facebook and Twitter to request help, passing along addresses and locations of stranded people.  I don’t know if traditional methods were unavailable, but even if they were they would’ve been overwhelmed.  So, people were using social media to call out to their fellow Filipinos for aid.  It really was inspiring to see, and made me wish I were there to lend a hand as well.

Additionally, people used social media, especially Twitter, to request information about current conditions, and to ask people to check on friends and family.  It was an incredible boon and aid to Filipinos and others with relatives and/or friends in the Philippines.

Social Media is also being used to pass information about where and how to donate to victims of the flood.

I personally spent a lot of time requesting information about where my relatives in the Philippines live, but it’s a rather out of the way spot, so we never did get much in the way of positive information.  In the end, we got through to my wife’s brother when he made it into the town area to get supplies from the grocery store Sunday afternoon around 4 PM.  Luckily, the part of the Antipolo they live in wasn’t too badly affected, which is a relief, considering the news about the majority of Antipolo.

Scandal And Heroism

Like any major event, this tragedy has brought out both the best and the worst in people.  There were scandals like Jaque Bermejo telling the world through Facebook that the victims must have deserved it, as a punishment from God and nature.  Then there was the President’s son leisurely purchasing liquor in Rustans.  Good job, hero.

But, there were stories of bravery and heroism too, where people gave their lives to save their fellow Filipinos.  I really hope that some of the nation’s tax money is used appropriately and a memorial is erected to honor the dead, and especially to honor those that gave their lives saving others.

What Now?

I suppose the biggest question people are asking themselves is, “What do we do now?”  Some people simply have flood damage and need to wait until the waters recede before returning home.  Even that’s no small thing, considering how much of a person’s personal belongings may be totally ruined.  Having to replace furniture is a heavy expense.  Having to replace electronics is even more costly.  Having to replace everything is worse still.  But, at least there’s a structure to call home to return to.

Some people don’t even have that anymore.  Imagine sitting in your only pair of shorts in a refugee camp somewhere, realizing that you no longer have anything to your name at all.  Some people don’t exactly have much in the bank and what was in their home may have been all they had of value.  What will these people do?  Where will they go?  How are they going to rebuild when they have nothing left to build with?

I don’t have a solution for that, but I hope there’s a government committee that does, or it will certainly cause problems later.  When a person has nothing, and has nothing to lose, they’ll almost certainly turn to less than legal means to make sure ends meet.  It’s quite likely that there will be a spike in the crime rate following this storm.

Hopefully, everything is handled well and a solution is found.  It would be an even bigger disaster for the destruction Ondoy left in its wake to be followed by even more tragedy.

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