Sunday, November 10, 2013

Disaster preparedness

THE RULE that it is easier to deal with a deprivation than a loss applied in our family when typhoon Yolanda hit the country.

On Friday morning, the older son called from Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu. He used the landline, which was miraculously working.

In Mactan, electricity was cut early in the morning. Power was later cut off in Cebu City after he made the call.

The loss of power was expected. However, the disconnection from the Internet, even if temporary, created anxiety in my sons, both of whom belong to the generation that regards their mobile phones and the wifi as their technological extensions for information and socialization.

Cebuanos benefited from the barrage of typhoon advisories disseminated by the government and media. Our household stocked on the necessities, like food and water. My yaya trimmed the plants and trees surrounding our house, and tied down those that might sway and snap off in the wind. Our roof was recently checked for holes and leaks.

Yet, another basic—information—was compromised when power was disconnected for the next two days, as it was first advised. There are three mobile phones in our household but no spare batteries. We have a radio that’s only used when I’m around. My teenagers probably do not know what AM stations are. Their world is in their mobile phones.

Deprived of the means to recharge, that world became rather precarious during the Friday blackout.

The older son called me in Manila to check the path of Yolanda in the country. He was irked when I fell asleep while praying the rosary and went online only two hours after he first made the request for information.

While my impulse was to check TV reports, my son directed me first to Twitter and then to Facebook, when I told him I forgot my username and password in Twitter as I have never Tweeted. His impatience was palpable across the rather erratic phone connection as he directed me to look for the DOST_pagasa page.

When I finally found the latest Severe Weather Bulletin, I found out to my dismay and my son’s consternation that I could barely read maps or scientific jargon.

Son: Do you know where Cebu is?
Me: This map has no labels.
Son (groans or perhaps wind howls): Did you even pass Geography?

When I was a child, storms were communions in mystery. We only used candlelight to eat and clean up after meals. I remember sitting or lying in the dark with my sister and father, listening to the wind and the rain and the night as if these were august personages deciding the fate of the world.

My father asked us to pray silently and solitarily, fingering the beads of our rosaries until the storm passed or we fell asleep. Once, when I won a silent but fierce toe-wrestling contest, my sister smiled or perhaps giggled. In the dark came my father’s reprimand. Perhaps my father could see like a cat. Or like a good parent, he didn’t require sight to sense that when my sister misbehaved, I instigated.

Storms seem different now. They are still mysteries but knowable. We can control our reactions to storms to save lives, harvest crops, secure property, rescue and direct assistance. For as long as we have information, we can take on the gods.

The deprivation of power that was a precautionary safeguard with Yolanda’s entry, and the later loss of power and communication as the typhoon exited reveal how we are made vulnerable.

As I write this, friends and strangers still have to hear word from loved ones cut off in Tacloban, Ormoc and other parts of Leyte. Listening to the emotional reports and testimonies of veteran journalists and news teams, who risked their life and lost their equipment while covering the areas suffering the worst of Yolanda, I remember my late father’s peculiarity.

He bought a newspaper daily and never switched off his radio. But during a storm, he chose the dark. Reading by candlelight was bad for the eyes. He also claimed that sitting in the dark made him realize that his favorite radio commentators were a bunch of deaf old men who couldn’t wait for the other person to finish speaking.

Only praying the rosary was worth doing on a stormy night, he said. Only God was about. Whether you prayed or fell asleep, He still heard you.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 10, 2013 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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