Four years after the last supertyphoon, Nina in 2016 with her 250-kph winds, and the devastation wrought by last Sunday’s Rolly with 280-kph gusts, it is time to revisit what the people of Catanduanes could have done better in preparation for this type of disaster.
Over-reliance on the very convenient, wifi-enabled cellphone meant most residents, including those with knowhow in understanding the intricacies of local and international weather forecasts, were rendered blind when telecommunications facilities ceased functioning.
They were cut off from their sources of information and prevented from knowing in real time the situations their neighbors and loved ones living in distant barangays.
Many regretted not keeping or buying battery-powered transistor radios, which could at least give you hourly typhoon updates or inform you what happened in other places of the country.
Majority were lulled into believing the earlier forecasts that Rolly would hit the northern part of Catanduanes, perhaps deceived by a typhoon usually curves back up after going down its projected path.
So few, especially in identified flood-prone areas, were ready for the water that rose quickly in just two hours to inundate huge parts of Virac poblacion. Some sought to evacuate after the flood had already reached chest-deep.
Very few had the foresight to store enough food, water and fuel to last for at least a week until the situation normalized.
All these failures, however, could be corrected the next time at the least expense.
But not one lesson that needs to be addressed with a deep pocket: the way we build our homes.
For those who can afford only wooden structures, the choice when authorities raise storm signal number three is to go to a sturdier, concrete building, be it a government evacuation center or a neighbor’s abode.
If they have extra money they can save from drinking sessions or smoking, they can build a slightly larger comfort room with slab roofing where they can take shelter in case the wooden house breaks up.
And no expense should be spared as far as ensuring structural strength is concerned: no “lyabe-lyabe” CHB walls in lieu of concrete columns and the beams and slab should be strong enough to withstand a falling tree.
The well-off and the middle-class, as well as business owners, should heed the same lesson on structural integrity and then another: never forget that a door or window is not an ornament to be admired at but to keep out unwanted elements, not only robbers but a supertyphoon’s gusts.
Concrete roof gutters, typhoon guards, steel casement or jalousie windows with steel attachments for typhoon guards may seem to be ugly to look at but it saves the lives of those inside and prevents their belongings from damage.
Even airconditioning units need to be wrapped in either tightly-secured tarp or wooden planks so they would not fly into the room when the wind blows into it.
Right after Rolly struck, some business owners in the capital town rued using aluminum roll-up doors in the main entrance or windows of their establishments as the roll-ups proved too easy for the gusts to rip off or tear off their moorings.
The better alternative is the ugly steel accordion door, which in past equally powerful storms have survived the relentless pressure and pounding of the wind, unless something big and heavy slams against it.
Among engineers and architects, there is this battle of the minds regarding building design: a choice between form and function.
In our typhoon-scarred island, a house that is a thing of beauty does not always last forever.
Rather, one’s home should protect its occupants from the ravages of the elements, particularly that regular visitor of Catanduanes, the supertyphoon.