Cabaero: Typhoon season in time of Covid

Nini Cabaero

THE weather bureau declared the start of the rainy season last Friday, June 12, 2020, just as Tropical Depression Butchoy visited the country and brought rains to Cebu.

Even before Butchoy arrived, parts of Luzon and Visayas experienced thunderstorms and the southwest monsoon or the habagat, the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said.

But there will be dry periods or monsoon breaks to last for several days to two weeks during the rainy season.

Butchoy was the second tropical cyclone out of 25 expected to hit the country this year. What this means to the local government and disaster-preparedness is that, while the coming of typhoons is expected, it will be different this time as there is also the priority of addressing the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

Preparations have to be made this early and guidelines or protocols for addressing the emergency have to be revisited to consider that restrictions to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus have to be continued, in fine weather or not.

How will physical distancing be maintained during a mass evacuation of residents in low-lying areas to bring them to higher ground and to safety? What setup will be adopted in evacuation centers and will isolation rules be compromised?

Evacuation centers are usually located in schools but some of these school buildings have been repurposed into quarantine centers. Officials have to decide if these isolation units or quarantine centers can be used to house evacuees escaping the destructive forces of a typhoon.

Families with their few possessions end up in cramped schools and gymnasiums where facilities such as toilets and shower rooms are limited.

Not only that. How about relief services and goods? People would not be able to access these or go to relief centers or the Department of Social Welfare and Development when public transportation is not available and backriding on motorcycles or bicycles is not allowed. A calamity that forces people to seek assistance will force them to violate orders not to leave their homes. That would increase the risk of transmission of the virus in a disaster-hit area.

Restrictions imposed because of the pandemic are extra challenges for local officials, disaster-preparedness agencies and relief operations who have to be mindful of the need to prevent transmission as they coordinate the movement of residents.

No doubt our officials have to prepare early. The procedures in the evacuation of persons in danger zones, provision of housing and meals, delivery of relief goods and conduct of donation drives. All these have to be studied in the context of the Covid-19.

Butchoy was not as deadly as Tropical Depression Ambo that hit parts of Luzon last May and resulted in the death of five persons. Butchoy was lame compared to past incidences of super typhoons in the country. The next one might be different.