Storm Surges, Waves: Why Manila is at Risk

by Ira Pedrasa,

MANILA – Remember the strong winds and heavy rains that created the tsunami-like waves in Roxas Boulevard in 2011?

They were actually storm waves. And this could happen again in Manila.

“The storm surge raised the water and the storm waves rode on that. That was what happened in Roxas Boulevard every eight seconds or so,” Filipino-American geologist and environmental scientist Kelvin Rodolfo explained in an interview with ANC.

This is why he is against the 300-hectare reclamation development of Manila Bay in Pasay City.

“It’s absolutely the worst thing to do. You put people in harm’s way by doing that,” said Rodolfo, who is also a professor emeritus of the University of Illinois.

He explained that the reclamation is like modifying the terrain in the area.

According to Rodolfo, a disaster is a combination of two: the people under threat and the threat itself. When there is an increase in population, there is also an increase in threat.

“When [typhoon Pedring] hit, it destroyed the breakwaters [of Roxas Boulevard]. The breakwater has been there for decades and then destroyed. What does it say? It means [the waves] were worse than anything that happened before,” he said.

Factor in climate change, and “it can get worst,” he warned.

Tsunami vs storm surge

By this time, the entire Philippines and probably the whole world already know what storm surge is. There are those who believe that the public should have been warned that a storm surge is like tsunami, which could have pushed them to move faster away from the disaster.

But Rodolfo, who earlier warned the government of the disaster coming from the lahar discharged by Mount Pinatubo, said it is also wrong to use “tsunami” to describe storm surges.

“While people know what tsunami is like, we could have generated unnecessary panic…and you would have also killed people in panic,” he pointed out.

Rodolfo believes that the weather authorities were not wanting in announcing the storm surges prior to Yolanda’s landfall. “There were warnings, some listened, some did not,” he said.

Translating ‘storm surge’ in Filipino

There are, of course, lessons learned after the havoc of the super typhoon.

He suggested coming up or developing a Filipino term for “storm surges,” noting that communication is key since Filipinos are fond of using names to incidents.

“The only way we can help people survive something is to teach family by family what to do,” he said.

Disaster response should also start in school, he advised, adding that “teachers should discuss with students what their families are doing, if they have emergency kits, food, etc. The strongest local unit is the family.”

He also highlighted the engineering concept called “factor of safety,” saying, “If you expect 10 feet high water, build something for 20 feet.”

as of 11/17/2013 8:19 PM

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