Eastern Samar residents not ready for storm surge
MANILA, Philippines - Residents of Eastern Samar are used to typhoons. But they didn’t understand the threat from a storm surge.
Paterno Esmaquel reports.
No one imagined this calm shore could turn so deadly.
Thirty-year-old Maricel Jerusalem remembers the wall of water that almost killed her baby...
barely two weeks old.
For more than an hour, Maricel swam with her child through waves deep as a two-storey building, what officials call a storm surge.
At one point, she thought her baby stopped breathing.
MARICEL JERUSALEM, HERNANI RESIDENT: Tapos nung ano na, nung 'yung mata ng anak ko nakikita kong tumitirik na, nung ganunin ko po siya hindi na po siya kumurap. Tapos sinipsip ko na lang po ang bibig niya at saka ilong. Umiyak.Kaso lang mahirap na po talaga ang pinagdaanan namin kasi hindi ko na po inasahan na mabubuhay pa ang anak ko. (When I saw my child’s eyes dilating, I tried to open it but my baby was no longer blinking. I tried breathing air into her. She cried.
What we went through was really hard, I really didn’t expect that my child would live through it.)
Like Maricel, hundreds were unprepared.
No one understood what a storm surge is.
Like a mini tsunami that keeps coming, a storm surge is caused by tides whipped inland by strong winds.
Eastern Samar suffered some of the worst storm surges of Yolanda.
Project Noah actually predicted the storm surges three days before the cyclone.
But even the governor of Eastern Samar didn't know what a storm surge is.
ESMAQUEL: Kayo po ba naintindihan nyo ang storm surge?
CONRADO NICART JR, GOVERNOR, EASTERN SAMAR: Hindi nga eh, ngayon ko lang naano yung term na yon, na-encounter. Kasi usually, noong araw, tidal wave, tsunami. Yung storm surge, ngayon lang yan naano. So yung mga tao, hindi naintindihan yon. Kaya ano lang sila, panatag lang sila sa lugar nila. (JUMP CUT) Sana ang ginamit nila, kahit tidal wave, kahit tsunami. Marami yon. Sarili yan mag-aalisan. Magvo- volunteer pa yung mga tao.
(ESMAQUEL: Do you know what a storm surge is?
NICART: No. It’s my first time to encounter that term. Before it was just called tidal wave or tsunami. It’s the first time we’ve heard of a storm surge. The people did not understand what it is which is why I think they were very calm. I hope they just said there would be a tidal wave or tsunami. People would’ve voluntarily evacuated.)
Nicart says Eastern Samar did its best to prepare for Yolanda.
Eastern Samar had rescuers and rescue boats on standby before Yolanda struck.
Up to 47,000 Eastern Samar residents evacuated their homes.
Still, government data show at least 172 of the 2,357 killed came from Eastern Samar.
Nicart says government could only do so much.
NICART: Eh ako, hindi ako magyayabang. Talagang hindi mo mahahandaan yan nang sapat. At saka hindi inaasahan na ang tubig dagat ang aano sa mga bayan-bayan. Usually, yung mga bagyo dito sa amin, more on ulan. So ang pinaghahandaan, 'yung mga ilog, 'yung mga nakatira sa tabing ilog at saka 'yung mga nakatira sa mga bukid bukid. 'Yun ang pinaaalis. Yung sa tabing dagat, hindi inaasahan yon.
(There’s really no way of preparing enough for it. Nobody expected the sea water to surge through the towns. Usually, typhoons here just bring rain. Those who live near rivers and ricefields, they’re the ones who are asked to evacuated. Those living near the shoreline, that’s unexpected.)
Another problem: reaching the survivors.
The lack of cellphone signals paralyzed the provincial capitol.
Damaged roads prevented officials from reaching affected areas.
It took two days just to assess the damage in Guiuan, ground zero for Yolanda, the first place it hit land.
Yolanda exposed the weaknesses in disaster preparedness...
People need to understand the danger. It begins with getting the right information.
Paterno Esmaquel, Rappler, Eastern Samar.