By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
ILAGAN CITY, ISABELA–“Sorry, guys, wala kayong maireport…”
It wasn’t pity or something sinister. No one lost a scoop nor was anything swept under the rug.
Jessie James Geronimo, information officer of Isabela province, was actually in good spirits giving this aside to national reporters at the briefing of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and local officials in the capitol.
Geronimo’s reason for saying so: “…Because we did our job.”
Everyone at the briefing shared a laugh.
After all, there was a grain of truth to it. The reporters had nothing much to report—except that the province survived the onslaught of Typhoon Chedeng (a.k.a. Maysak) a day earlier without a single casualty.
Interior Sec. Mar Roxas, in town for the meeting, smiled, exclaiming off mic: “Good news! Good news!”
In a country too used to rising death tolls after natural disasters, Chedeng left all with a sigh of relief.
It was described as an anomaly for hitting the country at the onset of summer and feared for its strength and possible impact. Storm warning signals were up as early as 36 hours before the typhoon made landfall. Residents and vacationers were evacuated from sea and river shorelines.
But a string of environmental factors broke up the typhoon as it slowed down on its approach to the Isabela-Aurora coast. When Chedeng hit Sunday morning as a tropical storm, all Isabela felt were cold weather, light showers and breezes.
The next day, local officials in the forecast path were congratulating each other for their early vigilance. They were also thanking the populace for cooperating with them.
With damages and casualties absent, other stories soon dethroned the typhoon from landing the top headline after the Holy Week.
The story here, though, is that Filipinos may be finally learning their lessons on disaster preparedness a few toll-less typhoons after Yolanda, the deadliest to hit the country.
It’s not as attention grabbing as banners screaming “patay (dead)”, but it means a lot to the thousands who might have lost more.
Untold in the dull aftermath are the farmers thankful they wouldn’t lose their crops days before harvest; the coastal townsfolk no longer worried about supplies and first response should they again bear the brunt of the storm; or the business owners and residents who can rest easy that the livelihood they’ve rebuilt since Typhoon Juan survived another storm.
Chedeng’s weakening was dubbed a miracle by no less than the director of the national disaster agency, but especially by the faithful who commemorated the Easter “salubong” the morning of landfall in churches all over the province.
For government, it has been more relieving to find constituents less stubborn now when told to leave their homes–or in this week’s case, their summer vacation plans.
This top-to-down changing of mindsets has been a long time coming. Yet it hasn’t even come full circle.
It was in the national weather agency’s early monitoring of the storm long before it entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR). Local weather forecasting has come a long way as well since the misses of the past.
It was in the alarm consequently raised in the national media and in preemptive evacuations as the storm’s path was still being figured out.
This seemed like jumping the gun the first few times it had been done in the post-Yolanda era, even a waste of public resources. But by now, prevention has come to be better than uncurable calamity.
The advance information drive worked two ways in the case of Chedeng.
When the storm entered the PAR, some thought it had already hit land and wondered why it was still sunny. Others in the provinces didn’t even know a storm was coming.
The media has also had to change its game plans for disaster coverage.
News organizations now deploy teams to the landfall areas earlier. These teams are reminded with extra emphasis to put safety of person and equipment first over heroics.
The teams chasing Chedeng’s projected track still prepared to report the effects of an intense impact, like finding ways to get reports from the hard-to-reach coastal areas and drawing up back-up plans for locations to transmit from.
That the storm ultimately weakened made it seem anticlimactic.
Officials glowing at the zero-casualty reports now talked about sharing best practices and learnt lessons in disaster response with other municipalities.
Such details, however, will rarely crop up on a medium that often thrives on the explosive and the tragic.
Still, when life and limb are involved, there are no regrets in not getting bad news.
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* Revisit the impact of Typhoon Juan in Isabela in these posts from 3 years ago.
* Yolanda changed the game for disaster preparedness and response in the country. Read stories from the aftermath here.