As former Typhoon Hagupit clears the Philippines and heads westwards into the South China Sea, it is time to reflect on how the country’s preparations have apparently paid dividends.
There was great concern as Hagupit developed into a ‘Super Typhoon’ reaching the equivalent of a category 5 on the five-point Saffir-Simpson wind scale.
Hagupit’s arrival came just over one year since Typhoon Haiyan killed 6,300 people, left more than 1,000 missing and caused an estimated $2.86 billion in damage across the south of the country.
Let us be clear: Hagupit was no Haiyan. The winds and particularly the storm surges were much less, but there was real fear and concern that Hagupit could cause significant devastation to areas still recovering from Haiyan, not least the city of Tacloban.
Despite crashing into the central Philippines as the equivalent of a Category 3 storm, Hagupit’s impact was far less than many had expected.
It appears that the eastern Visayas city of Borongan bore the brunt of Hagupit, (which was known as Ruby in the Philippines). The city reported 21 of the 27 fatalities reported so far, as winds of 180kph battered the coast. A storm surge and coastal inundation may also have played a part in some of the deaths.
The city also experienced an incredible 396mm of rain in less than 24 hours. This represents about two thirds of the rainfall we would expect to see in the entire month of a typical December.
The massive rainfall totals across the region were partly due to the vast energy within Hagupit, but also partly as a result of its very slow movement across the country – around 10kph.
At least the slow movement gave the authorities plenty of time to move people from areas deemed vulnerable to flooding, inundation and mudslides.
It is thought that more than one million people were moved from Hagupit’s path, making it one of the largest peacetime evacuations on record.
Credit must also go to the country’s Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). PAGASA’s computer forecast proved as accurate as any of the major forecast centres, and its forecasters were able to give accurate and timely advice to the emergency co-ordinators and government officials.
Early estimates suggest that the financial cost of damage to property, infrastructure, agriculture and casualties is $23 million, a fraction of the damage wrought by Haiyan.
Hagupit is now heading towards coastal regions of central and southern Vietnam. It remains a tropical storm, not with any great wind strength, but it should retain enough energy to dump another 200mm or more of rain across this region later this week.