Typhoons, Facebook, and panic.

21 October 2009

Typhoons are a fact of life for Filipinos. Every year about twenty storms pass through the country, some of which wreaking havoc in huge parts of Luzon and sometimes Visayas. There were the great storms: Milenyo, Reming, Frank, and others which caused billions of pesos in damages and killed hundreds. And then there was the tandem of Ondoy and Pepeng. Unlike the great storms of the past that blew the hell out of roofs, Ondoy and Pepeng dumped so much rain that it caused catastrophic flooding in northern and central Luzon. Rice fields became fishponds, vehicles floated in the floodwater, and when it was all over the locals of Marikina and several other cities hardest hit by the floods found themselves shovelling mud off their homes. Just imagine dead pets and refrigerators dangling from the power lines, malls and other structures standing amidst what appears to be the open seas, and cars flipped over. As we say in Filipino, walang sinanto. Both rich and poor suffered from the wrath of the two storms, and as of these writing a lot of places are still flooded and many public schools are full of evacuees.

One remarkable thing I saw during these tough times is the use of social networking and blogging sites to spread vital information and ask for help. Universities have taken the initiative to start relief efforts. Many people posted images and videos, some of which were aired countless times by local TV stations. For several days I actually found myself reposting whatever information I got from trusted sources. Calls for missing people, calls to pray for those who were hardest hit, those things. Facebook, for some time, turned from a haven of procrastination to some sort of information center. Now that's what I call proper use of technology. Unfortunately some people were either misinformed or downright bored. As expected, panic messages spread like H1N1—about the local electricity provider shutting down substations, cracks in the San Roque dam in Pangasinan, and Pepeng being a Category 5. People can't be blamed for being so nervous about the storms, though.

While the storms sent torrents of floodwater rushing towards communities, it is also in these tough times that we get to witness heroism (case in point: Muelmar Magallanes) and what we call bayanihan—being there for your fellow countrymen in times of need. This probably won't be the last time that our country will experience such a disaster—the weather is becoming more and more unpredictable. But when the next big storm hits, people should be better prepared.

Cover: Anadnu Vinod / Unsplash