Monday, November 11, 2013

First thoughts on Typhoon Haiyan and the Philippines

I have never been to the Philippines or read much about it but I could have written, pre-landfall, 75% of the content of ALL the news articles that have come out in the three days since the storm hit. 

The journalists are SHOCKED, SHOCKED that the disaster is much worse than expected. No one expected that the water would rise so high. The Category 5 winds caused a "remarkable" amount of roof damage. The survivors started looting businesses after the storm "in search of necessities." A survivor will be quoted, within 24 hours of impact, as being SHOCKED at the poor response of the government: "Don't they understand how desperate things are here?" International aid organizations will promise relief, and send teams to "assess" the situation. The U.S. military will dispatch supplies, planes and ships "at the request of the Philippines government."

And, of course, global warming may be involved.

Do me a favor. Go look up on Google maps the city of Tacloban, on Leyte Island in the Philippines (it's not that hard). Tacloban looks like its at the bottom of an inverted cup placed at the junction of a 90 degree angle of the East side of the island (or, the side of the approaching storm). I looked at the map before landfall and knew, without benefit of a hurricane evacuation study, that all of the storm surge generated by this enormous storm would be funneled into the bottom of the cup. I knew right away that Tacloban would be in severe trouble from storm surge alone.

Next, go to the National Hurricane Center site and click on the link to the left entitled "Wind Scale." There you can read about the types of damage to be expected from a Category 5 storm: "Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months."

Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months. Hummnnn. 

Let's go back to the fact that Tacloban is on an Island. Granted, it's a big island, but this big island doesn't have Interstate 10 crossing the island, nor does it have I-75 connecting the north to the south. That means relief supplies have to be brought in by plane. Or by boat, when the port is opened.

They don't have enough planes or money or time to take care of 200,000 people in those conditions. And I equate their conditions to be like trying to survive in the middle of the Libyan  desert. Every plane that flies into Tacloban airport should be leaving full of people. When the boats and ships start arriving (and they should be on the way) they should drop off supplies and haul back people.

If the government of the Philippines hasn't figures this out yet then people are going to start dying. The World English Dictionary defines uninhabitable as "not capable of being lived in." The only way to bring the supply of food, water and shelter into equilibrium with supply in this situation is to reduce the demand. The increased rate of mortality will achieve this end but the more civilized approach is to bring the people to a place that they can be sustained at the First Level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

When (not if) the Category 5 storm hits Miami the same type of calculus will come into play. Miami-Dade County is not an island but it's close. It's at the very end of a long peninsula, with 2.5 million people (not 200k) crammed into a narrow strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Everglades.

When the Cat 5 comes we are going to start having to bus and fly them out as fast as we can.

"You can't make them leave!" I have already heard the naysayers shout.

Oh, I agree. A good portion of them will be screaming to get out. Live. On national television.  

Let's see what happens in the Philippines the next few weeks and months. We may see a preview of coming attractions. I hope the right people are watching, and that they learn the right lessons. 

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