Mindanao rarely gets visited by typhoons. In fact, it has been reported that while the country is at the receiving end of around 20 storms a year, only six made landfall in Mindanao in the last 15 years
What is not getting rare, it seems, is that Mindanao is now being hit by successive and deadly typhoons.
The havoc wrought by typhoon Sendong in December of last year in the Mindanao region, especially in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, is still vivid in our memory.
The stories of death were simply terrifying, the devastation simply shocking and the grief of people simply disturbing.
This time, the same Sendong victims were traumatically bracing themselves, yet again, for the onslaught of typhoon Pablo, which was described by meteorologists as more powerful and devastatingly packed with stronger winds and heavy rains.
While Pablo still left death and chaos in its aftermath, what made the difference, however, that resulted in lesser casualties this time, is that people have learned to be proactive and heed the local government’s early warnings and calls for evacuation.
Where there were over 1,400 people recorded to have died from Sendong, this time Pablo has been reported by the Philippines National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council to have left an statistics of 325 dead, 411 injured and 379 missing and counting.
But, death is death no matter what the reduction in number is, and it continues to be the government’s responsibility to put people’s lives away from harm’s way in whatever manner it could.
Unlike Sendong, there were no surprises this time as improvements in the early warning systems has been implemented since then, not to mention that Pablo struck when it was still daytime.
Mindanao, as elsewhere in the country, are better prepared now for coming typhoon given the availability of increasingly sophisticated weather forecast data and improvements in communications technology.
What makes typhoon a killer really, especially in the mountainous and remote regions of the country, is not so much the strong winds, but the heavy, non-stop downpour that can set off sudden landslides and violent floods, washing away and/or covering houses and killing people.
This is what happened this time with Pablo in Davao Oriental, as even the evacuation centers — public buildings and schools – were also victims of flash flooding, thus resulting in the death of people taking shelter in the evacuation center.
Officials said many victims were poor migrants who flocked to landslide-prone sites like New Bataan and the nearby town of Monkayo to farm the lower slopes of mountains or work at unregulated mines in the gold rush area.