PAGASA: Team RP proves world wrong
By Christine O. Avendaño, Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—“Team Philippines” proved the world wrong after it was able to overcome the strongest typhoon so far this year with minimal loss of lives, the officer in charge of the weather bureau said Tuesday.
Science Undersecretary Graciano Yumul said international news reports last weekend had been saying that heavy damage to life and property was expected in the Philippines, being a developing country with weak houses and infrastructure.
“I think we were able to prove them wrong,” said Yumul, the OIC of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).
At press time, the Inquirer recorded at least 12 people dead in northern and central Luzon. Benito Ramos, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said 10 were confirmed dead and six injured.
Yumul said government preparedness and the people’s cooperation helped minimize the losses from Super-typhoon “Juan” (international codename: Megi), which made landfall in Isabela province on Monday.
“I think Typhoon Juan showed you Team Philippines,” he said at a briefing in Malacañang.
President Benigno Aquino III commended PAGASA and the departments of science and technology, of national defense, of social welfare and development, and the national disaster council.
“I am very happy to report to the public that everyone has delivered. The thorough preparations of all concerned agencies are in marked contrast to the official helplessness of the past, and at present, we haven’t had to ask the public to contribute outside resources,” the President said.
In a statement read by his spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, Mr. Aquino said PAGASA issued bulletins on the coming storm early and the rest of the bureaucracy informed the public of its plans as early as Friday, days before Juan hit land.
“To date, the needs of affected communities are being met. The damage and loss of life could have been much greater had we not prepared for the storm,” Mr. Aquino said.
He said the actions of the government and the people showed what could be accomplished when “we all cooperate to anticipate the needs of our people.”
Yumul said that as predicted by PAGASA forecasters, Juan pounded Isabela with winds of 225 kilometer per hour, gusts of 260 kph and rains in the 50-to-60 millimeter an hour range similar to last year’s Tropical Storm “Ondoy” (Ketsana).
“The good thing about this is you saw a tremendous typhoon entering the country but the loss of lives—considering this is the strongest in the world—was basically minimal,” Yumul said.
He attributed the minimal loss of lives to efforts not only by the national and local governments and civil society to respond to the storm but also by individuals and families on the ground.
“They really made the difference,” he said.
Yumul said PAGASA’s “every-hour-on-the-hour” monitoring of Juan helped Isabela from getting caught unprepared.
He said international weather agencies and even PAGASA’s own models on Sunday all pointed to Juan making landfall in Cagayan.
“All the international centers and all the numerical models showed that [Juan] would hit northwest and hit Cagayan. But the every-hour-on-the-hour monitoring of PAGASA showed that it already dove that it was going southwest,” Yumul said.
“At 10 p.m. (on Sunday), PAGASA was the only agency that showed Juan is not going to Cagayan. It will actually hit Isabela,” he added.
Courage of PAGASA
Yumul lauded the courage of PAGASA personnel for following the indications of their hourly watch instead of adopting the findings of the international agencies and the weather bureau’s forecasting models.
“It took a lot of courage among the young people of PAGASA to actually make that kind of decision because the national government was really depending on these young people,” he said.
“They said it would not hit Cagayan but Isabela. Then, lo and behold, the young people were correct,” he said.
Yumul said PAGASA began to monitor Juan’s path as early as Friday on Mr. Aquino’s orders.
A few days into his administration, Mr. Aquino expressed his disappointment over PAGASA’s forecast of the path of Typhoon “Basyang” (international name: Conson) that proved way off the mark.
Basyang was forecast to take a route to the north but actually hit Metro Manila.
The President, during a meeting of the disaster management council, told PAGASA officials that its performance was unacceptable. He sacked then weather bureau chief Dr. Prisco Nilo shortly thereafter.
At Tuesday’s Palace briefing, PAGASA deputy administrator Nathaniel Servando said the weather bureau continued to monitor Juan even if it was moving away from the country.
Most houses destroyed
Servando said the storm was expected to be out of the country either Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.
Discussing the damage wrought by the super-typhoon, Ramos said 80 percent of the houses in Divilacan, Palanan and Makonakon in Aurora province were wiped out, including a warehouse storing National Food Authority rice.
He said 2,000 of 8,000 sacks of rice stored there got wet and as a result were considered unfit for consumption.
Ramos said the national disaster council was still assessing the extent of the damage caused by the typhoon.
“The work of bringing life back to normal in the soonest possible time is already underway,” Mr. Aquino said.
He assured the public that the power utilities were doing their job to bring back electricity to the affected areas.
“For areas where power supply was shut down as a precautionary measure, the authorities are now geared up to restore power as soon as they have been able to properly assess the damage and necessary repairs,” Mr. Aquino said.
The President said the Department of Social Welfare and Development was attending to more than 8,000 evacuees. “They have been able to attend to the needs of affected communities because of the prepositioning of supplies and equipment,” he said.
The US government is set to release $100,000 in disaster relief assistance to the victims of the typhoon, the US Embassy in Manila said Tuesday.
The President, who called on government agencies to work for zero casualties in the wake of the super-typhoon, expressed his condolences to those who lost loved ones despite efforts to mitigate the storm’s effects.
“Let me extend my deepest sympathies to the families of those who have lost loved ones in this super-typhoon,” Mr. Aquino said. With a report from Jerry E. Esplanada