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  • How Preparing Early Helped Against Hurricane Patricia and Typhoon Koppu

    In the last two weeks, hurricanes hit western Mexico and Luzon Island in the Philippines.

    Patricia - Trees Blowing - Preparing Early via LA Times

    After both hurricanes, the death toll and damage were far less than feared. Hurricane Patricia, a storm equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane in the U.S., hit western Mexico on October 24. Wind and water destroyed an estimated 3,500 buildings as well as crops. But as of October 26, only six deaths had been reported.

    Typhoon Koppu, which struck the Philippines on October 18, was the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane. In the Philippines, the typhoon submerged 300 villages and caused an estimated $137 million in damage to agriculture alone. However, only about 50 people were reported killed.

    Haiyan - Preparing Early via NY Daily News

    Contrast those storms with Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in November 2013 and, until Patricia, was the most powerful hurricane recorded since accurate satellite measurements began in 1970. It left more than 7,300 people dead or missing and caused $2.8 billion in damage.

    After these October storms ended, disaster experts applauded both countries for their preparations that helped limit death and damage from the hurricanes.

    The United Nations 2014 Human Development Report listed two ways to limit vulnerability to disasters: prevent them from happening and build resilience among people and communities.

    Obviously, hurricanes aren’t preventable. However, both Mexico and the Philippines had plans in place to disseminate information and arrange for evacuation.

    After the devastation from Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the government of the Philippines and aid agencies began focusing on disaster risk reduction, according to a story in The Guardian. They emphasized early warning dissemination, clear information about evacuation centers, pre-positioning aid in remote communities and teaching safer places to build homes and plant crops.

    Two days before Typhoon Koppu struck, Filipino president Benigno Aquino III broadcast a warning to the nation. According to the U.N., that broadcast, along with close coordination with meteorological, government and aid workers, helped people concentrate their efforts.

    More than 65,000 people were evacuated, with more than 12,000 staying in 136 shelters.

    Mexico made similar preparation. About 3,000 soldiers fanned out around southwestern Mexico in the days before Hurricane Patricia hit, and more soldiers and sailors came in after, according to an Associated Press story. USA Today reported at least 50,000 people stayed in more than 2,000 shelters.

    "'The 'warning-alert-evacuate-then hunker down' combination seems to have worked to limit the human losses from the wind component of the hazard," said Richard S. Olson, director at the International Hurricane Research Center in Miami, to the AP. "Local, state, and national authorities seemed to have gotten this one right."

    It helped too that the storm grew so big so quickly it didn’t have time to build up much of a storm surge and then quickly dissipated when it hit the mountains near the coast, Olsen said.

    Hurricane Evac Sign - Preparing EarlyIndividual families can have evacuation plans ready in case of emergency. They should include escape routes and emergency meeting places outside their home and neighborhood, according to ready.gov. They should account for individual needs and responsibilities, type of shelter and methods of transportation. Disability, age, and pets should also be considered.

    Families should also have communication plans with contact information for family members and friends, including an out of town contact. Each family member should carry a contact card, available to fill out at www.redcross.org.

    Resilience, the second way to limit vulnerability to disasters, includes developing skills to weather many types of shocks, according to the U.N. report.

    One way to develop resilience is to be financially prepared. That means having a savings and getting important information organized, according to Ann House, coordinator of the Personal Money Management Center at the University of Utah.

    A short-term savings covers things like a down payment on a home. An emergency savings helps to prevent high-interest debt like credit cards or short-term loans when things come up like car repairs or doctor bills, she said.

    Equally important is to take savings out first via direct deposit. Then live off the rest. It’s an out of sight, out of mind thing.

    “I know if I keep extra money in my checking account, I will spend it until it’s gone,” she House.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “Emergency Financial First Aid Kit” is a great financial organization resource, House said.

    The 44-page booklet includes four sections that identify what information to collect, like social security cards, insurance policies, prescriptions and emergency contact information.

    “If there’s a natural disaster like a fire, do you know where your birth certificates are?” House asked.


    Hurricane_Blog_Banner - Preparing Early

  • Super Typhoon Lando Blasts Through the Philippines

    Being in the Philippines during a small, tropical storm was an unpleasant experience, to say the least. That was 10 years ago, and while we were without power for 10 days and running water for just a few, it was nothing compared to what the Philippines gets on a regular basis.

    This weekend, a super typhoon known locally as Lando (Lando System?) barreled its way through the Philippines, killing at least 16, injuring more, and displacing more than 60,000 people. The storm knocked over trees, homes, and power lines, causing power outages in nine provinces.

    Flooded Streets - WWNT Radio via WWNT Radio

    The streets in the Philippines are prone to flooding during short bursts of heavy rain. This storm system brought heavy rain for a long duration. Some homes were flooded up to the rooftops. Many people were in the middle of the harvest when the storm hit, so not only will rebuilding affect their homes, but their livelihoods as well. Flash flooding is feared for the Metro Manila area (which area has about 12 million people in an area the size of New York City).

    Many of the towns North of Manila that were hit by torrential rain were “lulled into complacency” because the storm had move up and away from them, and did not strike those areas with its full power. However, just because the typhoon didn’t hit those areas head on, the rain it produced from even the edges of the typhoon drenched many villages, bringing floods many feet deep.

    The Philippines is one of the most heavy-hit countries in the world when it comes to typhoons. They know very well what these kinds of storms can bring, and yet they still can become complacent. This complacency can be dangerous, especially considering the relative unpredictability of many natural disasters. Even the ones we can track, such as hurricanes, can shift without warning, or bring more rain than anticipated, such as Lando did in the Philippines.

    Sitting on Roof - BBC via BBC

    Being prepared with escape plans, food, water, and communication are all vitally important. But it’s also important to prepare with an expectation that things can go downhill fast. For the people in the Philippines, I admit it is much more difficult for them to prepare for such things than for us. The way their cities and towns are laid out, flooding is a constant problem, and there is almost no way to keep that flood water out of their home. The best they can do is brace for impact and hope for the best.

    Our infrastructure in the United States is better. Water can be soaked up by grass (lawns are virtually non-existent in the Philippines), and our drainage systems work pretty well. Of course, during any form of heavy rain, we may experience backed up drains and sewers. Bracing for storms involves gathering sandbags and other supplies that can help push back the floods.

    Filipinos don’t have that luxury. We do. And we need to make sure we’re using our resources in ways that will protect us. Waiting until the last minute to buy emergency food for an oncoming storm can leave you empty handed. This happens all the time. A storm comes, and grocery store shelves go bare. Finding backup power sources may be more difficult than you think if you wait too long. Water is the same way.

    While my heart goes out to those in the Philippines, my thoughts are also turned to us, here. We need to take the time to prepare before a storm comes our way. And remember, it could be more than just a super typhoon. Tornadoes, earthquakes, or even job loss or accidents could keep you from providing for yourself and your family.

    And so, while the Philippines works on rebuilding after the Lando System blew through, it is my hope that we can take this time to prepare before the next big event comes rushing towards us. And for everyone in the Philippines, I wish you luck and success in your recovery. Kaya ninyo!


    What do you do to prepare for disasters? Let us know in the comments!


    Click here for more information on hurricane preparedness
  • When Disaster Strikes and You Are Not Ready: Lessons from the Philippines

    In the Philippines, power and running water can be gone at the drop of a hat. Trust me, I know from experience. One moment you’re walking down the street under the street lights, the next…darkness. It makes for quite the dangerous walk, considering all the deep holes in the sidewalks (fortunately, I only fell in one hole my entire time there). Having lived in the Philippines for a couple years, I’ve experienced all kinds of things that really opened my eyes to why we prepare for emergencies. One event in particular stands out in my mind.


    The Tropical Storm

    Malaya 2-Rice on RoadIn the fall of 2006, I was living in a small town in the province of Rizal. A single road splits the town in half. On either side of the road, there are a few smaller side streets. A large lake is less than a mile West of the main road. Mountains are just to the East, just after the terraces of rice paddies. It is a rural town, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.


    Malaya-PalayanOne of the downsides to beautiful, rural living, however, is that when a tropical storm comes through, there isn’t much to stop it from wreaking havoc. That November, we were hit by a powerful tropical storm. It knocked out our power and stopped our already unreliable running water.

    We had some backup water, but not much. We couldn’t shower, and our dirty laundry just remained dirty. What else could we do? After just two days the water was back on (hurray!), so we had our showers back and our laundry cleaned, and once again we could run our water through our filters for consumption. The power, however, remained off.

    The Philippines is a hot, humid place, which makes for very unpleasant nights without power. The bedroom in which I slept had no window, and there was only one window in the front room. I moved My bed out there and hoped for a little breeze. Because the power was out, our electric fans were useless. The days were hot, and the nights somehow hotter. What I would have given for some electricity!

    After ten days of sleeping in a hot, stuffy room, the power was finally restored, and while it was still hotter than the sun, having that breeze move across my face while I slept felt – if just for a moment – like the cold, arctic wind. A little electricity can work wonders.

    Unfortunately, all the food in the fridge went bad. Instead of keeping food for days before cooking it, we had to buy food the day we wanted to eat it. Nothing would keep. Fishermen were giving their fish away for free because if they didn’t, it would just go bad.

    A bamboo home near a rice field behind our house was completely washed away by the storm. We knew that family well, and while we were happy that everyone was safe, we were also very sorrowful for their loss. Oddly enough, their neighbor’s home was hardly damaged.

    Even though the storm was too weak to be a hurricane, it still created quite a mess. Streets flooded into homes, tree limbs littered the ground, blocking the road, and damaging property. Food and clean water was in short supply. Cleanup took quite some time.


    Lessons Learned

    Malaya 2-Kitchen We had to collect our water in a bucket, then pump that water through a filter before we could drink it.

    While the experience was less than desirable, it showed how we can be prepared. More than ever, the water filter we used was a life saver. Of course, we always used it, because water in the Philippines just isn’t safe without it. However, after the storm caused floods and stirred the pot, so to speak, the water was even less safe than before. Having a water filter for when the water stops running is, in my opinion, one of the greatest resources you can have.

    Another hot commodity was electricity. Without a way to stay cool, sleep was more than just difficult – it was nearly impossible. I would fall asleep fanning my face with some sort of paper or cardboard, then wake up with a start when the hot, humid air began to suffocate me again. If your power goes out during a hot summer (or a cold winter, for that matter), having a way to stay cool (or warm) can make life a whole lot more bearable.

    Having no power was a pain for more than just sleeping. Not being able to keep food long term was difficult at best. By having long-term food storage, losing power won’t affect your ability to eat. Having extra food on hand would have been a huge benefit to us during this emergency.

    You will never know the extent of damage a disaster will cause until it actually happens. The Philippines is prone to huge typhoons, so we were lucky this was just a little guy. Still, we were affected for over a week without certain things that here in America we tend to take for granted.


    Before the next disaster comes to your neck of the woods, I urge you to prepare your home and family for any scenario. Know the disasters that are prone to your region and prepare accordingly. And if, after a disaster, it turns out you over prepared, then that’s far better than the alternative. I would much rather be over prepared than underprepared.


    Have you ever been left without power or water following a disaster? What did you do?



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