6 December 2014
Part of this article was originally published on Rappler.com on April 2, 2015
In early December 2014 Typhoon Ruby (International name, Hagupit) arrived and was one of the year’s strongest typhoons to hit the Philippines. The media compared the typhoon to Typhoon Yolanda due to its similar strength and track. As it entered the country late on December 3, it was upgraded into a Category 5 super typhoon. The NDRRMC declared that schools would be suspended in Samar, Biliran, and Tacloban on December 4–5 (NDRRMC, 2014). As a weakening Category 3 typhoon, Hagupit first made landfall over Dolores, Eastern Samar on December 6 (GMA News, 2014) and because it was a slow-moving storm, signal warning no. 3 was up in most of the Visayas for a relatively long period. The next day, Hagupit made its second landfall over Cataingan, Masbate (Tubadeza, 2014). A total of eighteen deaths were caused by the typhoon, with more than four million individuals affected throughout nine regions of the country. It also incurred more than PhP5 billion worth of damages to infrastructure and agriculture in six regions (NDRRMC, 2014).
It was during this typhoon that the Storm Surge Inundation mapping component of DOST Project NOAH first initiated its storm surge forecasting protocols in coordination with the official weather forecasting agency, PAGASA. It released storm surge advisories which showed the heights of the storm surges caused by Typhoon Ruby as early as Friday, December 5 (Rappler, 2014). By checking how the heights translate to inundation using the storm surge hazard maps in the NOAH Beta website (noah.dost.gov.ph), coastal communities can be warned of the impending hazard and subsequently advised to evacuate (Ranada, 2014). The list of communities and storm surge advisories that could experience storm surges were updated constantly as the typhoon approached the country.
One of the municipalities in the storm surge list was the municipality of Daram in Samar (Rappler, 2014).With a population of 41,322, or more than 9,900 households, Daram is a third class town in Western Samar. It faces the Samar Sea that separates Samar Island from Leyte. The town was in NOAH’s list of areas where the forecast storm surges were expected to be highest at between 2.6 to 3.6 meters. The storm surge warnings were released 36 hours before the typhoon made landfall. A series of timely warnings helped Daram prepare for the typhoon by two days, according to the town’s mayor, Lucia Astorga, and her disaster management chief, Rey Fuentes. Of the 58 villages in Daram, about 30 to 35 already had Internet access, Fuentes said. Internet access allowed the town’s disaster management office to monitor rainfall, wind speed, and storm surge alerts from Project NOAH and PAGASA. Relaying critical information to areas without Internet access was a big challenge. For this reason, Astorga and Fuentes resorted to translating the information into the local language – Waray – and sending them to the village captains through text (SMS) messages. In Daram, the fastest means of communication was through mobile phones. The municipality had been using this method of communication for disasters since 2011, according to Fuentes, who added that the critical period for public dissemination of information is one to two days before the typhoon gains strength and power goes off.
Astorga stressed the importance of using simple and understandable language when spreading critical disaster information. But she noted that it was also easier to convince people to evacuate since they knew about the deadly storm surges that hit Leyte. The messages were relayed to barangay captains who, in turn, distributed them up to the purok level. In one barangay, Guindapunan, officials activated the purok system to help in disaster information dissemination, evacuation management, and rebuilding efforts. Women packed valuable items, prepared food, secured important documents, and guided their children to the evacuation center. Men patrolled the streets, ensured security, and kept watch for the storm surge. A school building located on high ground served as the evacuation center for about 125 families, or more than 500 people.
Typhoon Ruby made landfall in Dolores, Eastern Samar, at 9:15 pm Saturday, December 6, 2014. At dawn on December 7, Barangay Captain Ramirez and the other evacuees saw huge waves crashing over the roofs of houses, and washing away their shanties and boats. About 81 houses were flattened in Guindapunan, mostly those along the shore. One resident and his family of six lost their home and livelihood. His wife, Linda, said that while they were struggling to pick up the pieces and get back on their feet, she was thankful that they survived the storm. If it were not for the warnings from the disaster managers and the cooperation of the villagers, nobody in the coastal part of the island would have survived the storm surge as the typhoon battered Eastern Visayas for almost a day (Tupaz, 2015).
The municipality of Daram in Samar was one of the significant areas hit by the typhoon with 1,667 houses washed out by the storm surges of Ruby. Other municipalities that were devastated were Villareal, Babatngon and Pinabacdao. Timely preemptive evacuation was done due to lessons learned from Typhoon Yolanda, which saved numerous lives. Project NOAH which also translated weather bulletins for local languages on NOAH platforms, improved risk communication in several areas.
GMA News. (2014). Typhoon Ruby makes landfall in Dolores, Eastern Samar. GMA News Online.
NDRRMC. (2014). SitRep No. 01 re Preparedness Measures for TY “RUBY” (HAGUPIT).
NDRRMC. (2014). SitRep No. 27 re Effects of Typhoon “Ruby” (HAGUPIT).
Ranada, P. (2014). How to know if storm surge threatens your area. Rappler.
Rappler. (2014). NOAH warns: Meters-high storm surges in parts of Visayas. Rappler.com
Rappler. (2014). NOAH: More areas warned vs Ruby storm surges. Rappler.com
Tubadeza, K. M. (2014). Ruby makes second landfall, seven areas under Signal No. 3. GMA News Online.
Tupaz, V. (2015). How a small Samar town survived deadly storm surges. Rappler.com
Philippine Daily Inquirer. (2014). ‘Yolanda’-like ‘Ruby’ heads for PH. Inquirer.net.