It seems most everyone has learned the right lesson from Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” Both the national government and those local governments in the path of Typhoon “Ruby” went to great lengths to prepare for the inevitable; as many as three-quarters of a million residents in at-risk areas willingly complied with evacuation orders. “People did not need much convincing to move to safety,” Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman told the Associated Press. “In fact many of them volunteered to go.”
A pity, then, that President Aquino decided, a day before Ruby was expected to make its first landfall, to lecture the media on the difference between a typhoon and a supertyphoon.
The President warned a generally sympathetic Bulong Pulungan on Friday about the dangers of speculation. “On Wednesday, one of our major dailies headlined Ruby as ‘Yolanda-like.’ We all know that the paper had to be printed on Tuesday, and thus the information that the report was based on must have come from Tuesday’s information.”
He was referring to this newspaper, whose headline last Wednesday ran thus: “‘Yolanda’-like ‘Ruby’ heads for PH.”
On the narrow terminological point he chose to spend time on, the President was correct. With sustained winds estimated (at that time) to reach 175 kilometers per hour, Ruby was nowhere near Yolanda’s supertyphoon status. But the newspaper report Mr. Aquino referred to did not disguise that fact; it carried the following note: “A typhoon with sustained winds above 220 kph is considered a supertyphoon.”
In other words, the adjective “‘Yolanda’-like” did not refer to the strength of the oncoming storm. There are many ways to compare a typhoon to Yolanda; let us count some of the ways.
First, it looks likely to follow Yolanda’s track. Thus, the report began this way: “An incoming typhoon may make landfall in the region devastated by Supertyphoon ‘Yolanda’ (international name: Haiyan) only a year ago, the weather bureau warned on Tuesday.”
Second, it arrives at the same “unseasonal” time as Yolanda (the quote is from the President). Both Yolanda and Ruby struck outside the usual typhoon season; the devastation Yolanda caused acquired yet another layer of tragic misfortune because it happened close to the end of the year, traditionally a time of collective merriment. The same sentiment can be seen in the remarks of Gwen Pang, the secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross, about the relative lack of casualties a day after Ruby made landfall. “It’s too early to tell. Let’s cross our fingers that it will stay that way. It’s too close to Christmas.”
Third, it looks powerful enough to cause widespread damage on and inflict grievous harm in the same areas that suffered heavily from Yolanda. Thus, the same news story reported: “Pagasa said it was possible that Eastern Visayas, the region most devastated in November last year by the strongest recorded typhoon in history to make landfall, would again bear the brunt of the typhoon’s strength.” Earlier, the story quoted a weather expert: “But winds howling at 175 kph are capable of blowing away roofs, destroying houses and structures made of light materials and toppling trees, electric posts and even cell site steel towers, said Rene Paciente, senior weather forecaster for Pagasa.”
Readers can add to this list. But by comparing Ruby with Yolanda, this newspaper only did the natural thing; it drew attention to consequential similarities between the two weather disturbances. Perhaps people in the affected areas saw the same aspects in common, which may explain why so many volunteered to go to their evacuation centers, instead of being forced. In other words, calling Ruby “‘Yolanda’-like” was not speculation but a sober, deliberate sounding of the alarm.
If a powerful typhoon is headed for the same areas devastated by a powerful storm the previous year and still struggling on the road to recovery, should the leader of the nation quibble about the exact amount of power involved? Fortunately for all of us, public officials below the President’s level saw the very real dangers ahead and, learning the right lesson from Yolanda, acted accordingly.
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