ShelterBox’s Toby Ash reports back to the international disaster relief agency on the initial impact of the Philippines’ latest tropical storm. He describes last Tuesday as ‘The day Tacloban stopped smiling’.
Toby Ash is ShelterBox’s Country Co-ordinator in the Philippines, overseeing projects to help make these island communities more resilient to their violent climate.
Toby has just reported back to ShelterBox’s UK base on the initial impact of Typhoon Hagupit, saying that some areas are expected to receive up to half a metre of rain over the next two days, making flooding and landslides inevitable.
He says, ‘Tacloban, where 6,000 died during Haiyan, has been spared the worst of the typhoon and many of the tens of thousands who evacuated are now returning home. However, there is no power in the city, and unlikely to be for the next few days.’
Toby has been working in partnership for much of 2014 with other aid agencies, and with local Rotary clubs. ‘Currently I am trying to gauge the impact of the storm using the partners we have on the ground. The Rotary Club of Legazpi will be reporting back in the next 24 hours on the damage levels there, and we are also trying to contact Rotary on the island of Masbate. We are also working with our project partners who will be carrying our rapid assessments in E and N Samar over the next 24-48 hours.’
Typhoon Hagupit, known locally as Ruby, made landfall in North Samar around 18 hours ago. It has been moving very slowly across the central part of country, with wind speeds peaking at 130mph. The centre of the typhoon is now over the island of Masbate and the city of Lagazpi in Albay province.
Toby has heard no reports of loss of life, but says that communications are cut off in many areas. He warns, ‘A storm surge of 4-6 metres is expected tonight in Legazpi, which has a population of 200,000 and where we deployed aid in July after Typhoon Ramassun (Glenda).’
About half a million people were evacuated from coastal areas across the country, and Toby himself relocated from Tacloban before the storm hit. He has worked in the Philippiness for many months now, and says, ‘Filipinos are some of the happiest and smiliest people you will ever meet. But when news of the impending storm came through, everything changed. I was in the city of Tacloban, and last Tuesday was the day the city stopped smiling. Residents began packing up their possessions and started to leave the city or head for evacuation centres away from the seashore.’
‘Buildings and homes were boarded up and long queues formed at shops as people stocked up on essential provisions. As I left the city at dawn on Friday, I passed long candle lit processions, with priests leading the prayers that the storm would pass them by.’
Typhoon Hagupit’s house-wrecking winds have downed power lines, mobile phone masts and other communications. But it is a relatively slow-moving storm, and may take a further 48 hours to clear the archipelago.
The people of these storm-ravaged islands are used to response teams from ShelterBox being at their side. Since an earthquake in Bohol in October 2013, through the horror of Typhoon Haiyan in November, and then Typhoon Rammasun this summer, and on into partnership projects aimed at building more storm-proof shelters, ShelterBox has had a continual presence in the Philippines for over 15 months. Once Typhoon Hagupit has done its worst, there is little doubt that ShelterBox teams will still be needed well into 2015.
As soon as meteorologists warned that another super-typhoon was poised in the Pacific ShelterBox marshalled its resources. It has prepositioned stock already in country at Clark Freeport – around 1,000 tents and 400 ShelterBoxes, and a further 50 ShelterBoxes and 2,555 tarps already imported.
A ShelterBox response team is now en route to support Country Co-ordinator Toby Ash. ‘We are working with partners on the ground to assess the damage over the next 24 to 48 hours. A response team will be in the country by Tuesday ready to distribute our aid as required.’
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