By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
BALER, AURORA– At the point where the Pacific Ocean meets the Philippine shore, tourists tease and play with the waves, making the most of fading daylight.
The waves have been climbing as the hours pass, the tide teeming closer to the fences that separate the sand from the row of resort-hotels in this surfing hotspot.
It’s a last-ditch attempt to enjoy the remainder of what was previously surf-friendly weather.
The resort hotel they had checked into was also hosting a surfing event for the whole weekend. But even that had to be ended a day before schedule as reports of the approaching typhoon Lando (internationally Koppu) grew dire and direr. Beach activities, including surfing, have been banned.
As our news gathering and satellite team from Manila arrived there at noon to find a place to stay and set base in, the participants of the event were wrapping up with drinks and loud music.
The tourists, who also had children with them, were already aware of the evacuation being implemented in Baler’s coastal areas, which also included the hotels.
While hotel guests would be allowed to stay, they would have to sign waivers saying they stayed willingly and removed responsibility from the government for whatever happened to them.
It’s the same either-or for over 300 residents who were forcibly evacuated from their homes in Baler and nearby Dipaculao, Dilasag and San Luis.
After around two years of dodging strong typhoons, the Philippines is bracing for yet another record-making storm and hopes the lessons of the past will at least prevent the unnecessary loss of lives.
Lando has steadily been growing stronger even as it slowed down in its impending landfall–expected at 8 a.m. Sunday.
Not since 2013 has the president come on national TV to remind the nation to make needed preparations for a typhoon.
International weather monitoring outlets have been predicting a “historic rainfall event” for the areas in Luzon that would fall under Lando’s L-shaped track.
A NASA satellite has found “multiple storms” within Lando, and showed rain dropping at a rate of 133 mm per hour near its center.
Ondoy, which wrecked Metro Manila in just 24 hours of rain, brought 455 mm of rain. With the center of Lando expected to tarry over Luzon for 2 to 2.5 days, the accumulated rainfall may exceed that.
The resulting floods, Weather Underground said, were “capable of causing a top-five most expensive disaster in Philippine history.”
Not also since 2013 has a public storm warning signal been raised to no. 4 over an entire province.
Our Aurora team learned of the category upgrade at 5 this afternoon as we prepared for our live broadcast on TV Patrol Weekend.
We had intended to merely pack up our equipment and shelter it from the winds beside the hotel.
But signal no. 4 in a coast line also increases the likelihood of storm surges of up to 3 meters.
The locals insist there hasn’t been any deadly walls of water in this side of the country–all surf-friendly waves. Then again, that’s what they said in Tacloban before Yolanda.
Our Manila superiors remind us: err on the side of caution.
The precedents are stark–Yolanda in Eastern Visayas back in November 2013, and the succession of storms Unding, Violeta, Winnie and Yoyong that caused killer landslides in Quezon province south of here in November 2004.
For us assigned to greet the storm, they mean two things: first, precautions for our own teams and equipment; second, a foreboding of what we may be covering in the aftermath of the storm.
Coming from our news team’s own experience losing its broadcast capability during the Yolanda storm surge, no one is taking any chances. We decided to move our lodgings and base of operations further inland. We’ve stocked up as well on supplies.
That’s not to say some will still try to brave this once-in-a-while phenomenon.
As we packed up at the first hotel, we met Jason Harris, a “storm chaser” from Australia who’s here with 8 high-definition cameras to catch all there is to record about Lando/Koppu’s arrival.
He’s followed around 18 cyclones all over the world, mostly in the United States. Most of them though, hit land at night. He’s thrilled with what he would capture with Lando arriving by daylight.
But he wasn’t at the hotel for business or to scout for vantage points. He was having a drink just before the big day.
Tonight, the news teams here also take a much-needed rest. Some of us still overwhelmed from covering the storm of election-filers in days past, others still recovering from weather-related illnesses like colds.
From one storm to another, it’s still the call of service.
The Baler local government ended its disaster briefing today with a prayer for the safety of their town and province.
Our team, too, said our own prayer tonight–for protection and for at least the strength and endurance to do our duties in the following days.
By 11 p.m., Lando has been categorized by the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center as a “super typhoon”.
As the landfall point draws close, the battering rains slowly pick up their pace, punctuated by the clashes of banging iron and wood in downtown.
One of us said, “How can I sleep at a time like this?” But he soon dozed off, knowing he needed to recharge for what’s ahead.
Meanwhile, at the roaring waves this town is known for and still hopes to be known for after this, a tranquil silence reigns just before the storm.
(Postscript: Lando officially made landfall not at 8, but at 1 a.m., just after this blog was published.)