by B.J. Stolbov
[Author's Note: Typhoon Yolanda, also known by its international name of Typhoon Haiyan, hit the Philippines on November 7, 2013. In honor of the dead and missing, I will use its Filipino name, Yolanda.]
The Philippines are surprisingly long. They may look like just a bunch of specks (7107 islands) at the end of the Pacific Ocean, but from the Batanes Islands beyond the end of Luzon Island in the north to the Tawi-Tawi Islands at the end of Mindanao Island in the south, the Philippines are long (1,150 mi.). They are almost as long as west coast of the U.S. from Seattle to San Diego (1,293 mi.). Because of its length, its many islands, and its moving ocean currents, the weather can change considerably from island to island, even from the exposed windward side to the more protected leeward side of any island.
Here, in Northern Luzon, we are protected from typhoons by the mountains. For a typhoon to hit us directly, it has to come in from the southeast, low off the water, through the beaches and lowlands of Aurora, then up the Cagayan Valley, and then into the hills and mountains. This is what we call a "low" typhoon.
Typhoon Labuyo, “the storm of the year” at that time, hit us on August 12 in Quirino. It came in “low,” knocked down all the corn, just before harvest; and all the bananas, which will grow back on their own in nine months. It flooded all the rice paddies, but rice is used to water. Lots of crops and houses were destroyed, but, thankfully, no deaths.
When a typhoon comes in from the east or the northeast, it has to get over the Sierra Madre Mountains, which pushes it up and we call that a "high" typhoon. Typhoon Santi on October 11 and Typhoon Vinta on October 31 were both “high” typhoons. We get "high" winds and lots of rain. However, this is rainy season and we get rain every day, often two or three times a day, often torrentially hard. Because we are rural with very little concrete, the ground absorbs all the water. We can get a foot of rain, and, if it is clear, the next day we have 1" deep puddles, the next day we have mud, and the next day the water is gone. Except for rain, a "high" typhoon causes few problems.
The many problems with Typhoon Yolanda began in the dark of the night, at 4 a.m, Thursday morning November 7, when it came on shore. It came in at full force, directly from the ocean, "low" and through the beaches, lowlands, and lowland cities (Tacloban, the worst destroyed city, is essentially flat). The typhoon came up Leyte Gulf, through Palo, where MacArthur, my father, and the U.S. troops invaded in WWII. (See my story: “Returning to Leyte Landing, For the First Time” May 22, 2012 at www.yourlifeisatrip.com). After Leyte, it roared through the Visayas, those thousands of small islands in the middle of the Philippines. For the peoples of Leyte and the Visayas, the typhoon could not have hit at a worst time at a worst place.
These islands, especially Leyte, Samar, Cebu, Bantayan, Panay, Coron, and Calauit, and these people, the coastal fishing villages, the towns, the roads, the services, and the infrastructure, are just not built for this fierce of a storm. Do you stay down on the first floor to avoid the wind, but get flooded? Or do you go up to a higher floor to avoid the flood, but get hit by the wind. Also, many of the houses are wooden with sheet metal roofs that aren’t going to survive either wind or flood. And it was BIG.
The BIGGER problem with these typhoons here is global warming. We often hear discussions and arguments about global warming as air temperature. But these typhoons are a problem of global warming as rising ocean temperatures and rising sea levels. (The average sea level at Tacloban has risen 2.5” and it was reported as 8” higher before the typhoon hit.) Not only was this typhoon “the storm of the century” and the worst in the Philippines’ history, its name, alphabetically, was Yolanda. That is our 25th of the year, and since then Zoraida has hit Mindanao, and more are forecast. The Pacific Ocean weather patterns are changing. There are more and bigger typhoons in the South Pacific, the South China Sea, and the Indian Ocean, too. Mexico, too, got hit with more and bigger hurricanes this year. I don't have a solution to this problem (other than not throwing hot water into the ocean), but, seriously, this is a big problem worldwide and it is getting BIGGER.
The Filipinos will survive this. They are a tough, strong-willed, resilient people. That is the truth. A deeply religious people, they believe in eternity, but not in permanence. From their life experience, they know that natural disasters come and that their personal life, families, friends, animals, and possessions can be destroyed at any time at any place. It is also the truth that they know that this is their life.
What else can you do? Where else can you go? FiCan you run away far enough from natural disasters, from typhoons, floods, and earthquakes? No. All you can do is prepare yourself and do all you can to survive. Can you run away from your life? No, you can’t.
The choice is to moan and groan and complain about your fate, or pick yourself up, find your family, friends, and neighbors, help each other, rebuild, and start again. People live and die. Nature will grow back. Life will go on. If you are alive, you live!
The Filipinos will live. These spiritual people could use your help and your prayers. They really believe in the power of prayers, in the powers of faith and hope, and in the possibilities of a better future.
The Philippines are beautiful. Leyte and the Visayan Islands will be beautiful again. I hope someday you will come here and see for yourself.
Maraming salamat po. (Thank you very much.)
Ingat. (Take care.)
B.J. Stolbov is a writer, poet, essayist, novelist, short story writer, travel writer, and technical writer/editor. He lives, works, travels, and explores in the islands of the Philippines. B.J. teaches writing and English, and is available for writing and teaching positions. Please feel free to contact him at BJStolbov@gmail.com.