With climate change heightening the Philippines’ risk of natural disaster, the country is braced for the next catastrophe.
Video Typhoon Goni made landfall in the Philippines early Sunday with sustained winds up to 135 miles an hour, leaving at least 10 people dead in the Bicol region of Luzon. The storm largely spared Manila, the capital.CreditCredit…Ezra Acayan/Getty Images
- Published Nov. 1, 2020Updated Nov. 2, 2020, 2:16 a.m. ET
BANGKOK — The Philippines was braced for the worst. When Typhoon Goni made landfall in the disaster-plagued nation on Sunday morning, with sustained winds of 135 miles per hour, it ranked as the most powerful storm to hit the Southeast Asian nation in years.
Manila, the low-lying, crowded capital, looked to be squarely in the typhoon’s path. Roughly 1.5 million families in the city live near railroad tracks, garbage dumps and fetid waterways, their flimsy shacks and shantytowns defenseless against every wind gust and storm surge.
But by day’s end, Goni, known locally as Rolly, appeared to have largely bypassed the capital, with no fatalities reported there. At least 16 people were confirmed to have died from the typhoon in the Bicol region southeast of the capital, according to the regional Office of Civil Defense, with three people reported missing. Rivers overflowed, tree branches flew and wet concrete-like mudflows poured down the slopes of a volcano.
“Thanks be to God we were largely spared,” said Francisco Domagoso, Manila’s mayor. “But we are one with the people of the Bicol region, who bore the brunt of the storm.”
Late on Sunday evening, the national weather agency said that Goni had made its way across Luzon, the Philippines’ most populous island, and would weaken to a tropical storm within 24 hours.
The Philippines may have been lucky with Goni, the 18th typhoon to strike the country this year. But it remains starkly exposed to a multitude of natural disasters.
The country is situated on the so-called Ring of Fire, a seismically active swath encircling the Pacific Ocean that is roiled by earthquakes and volcanoes. Typhoons regularly batter the Philippine archipelago, packed with more than 100 million people. Deadly floods and landslides are common.
Image Flooding and destruction in Malinao, south of Manila. Albay Province was one of the worst-hit areas of Bicol, and bore the brunt of the storm.Credit…Charism Sayat/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
And now climate change is exacerbating the Philippines’ exposure to natural disasters, making it one of the most vulnerable countries on the planet, scientists say.
As sea-surface temperatures rise, the Philippines’ positioning in warm ocean waters means the country is being subjected to both bigger and more frequent tropical storms. Residents of densely populated slums are particularly imperiled. So are miners and farmers who excavate and till mountainous earth, creating slippery, muddy conditions in which torrents of soil can bury people alive.
Mass deforestation, including the destruction of mangroves along the coastlines, has torn away natural barriers to wind and water.
The Asian Development Bank says that more than 23,000 people in the Philippines died from natural hazards from 1997 to 2016 as the warming planet brought more powerful storms.
“Climate change is a big international idea, but we are facing this on the local level and we aren’t equipped with enough progressive vision for it,” said Dakila Kim P. Yee, a sociologist at the University of the Philippines Visayas Tacloban College
Still, the country has honed a resilient national character as it confronts disaster after disaster, Mr. Yee said.
After Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful tropical storms on record, churned across the Philippines in 2013, killing more than 6,300 people, local governments began drawing up better evacuation plans. That catastrophic storm destroyed or severely damaged more than four million homes, and the widespread looting that followed it devastated the university city of Tacloban.
Nearly 1 million people were evacuated before Goni made landfall on Sunday, disaster management officials said.
Residents took shelter in a public school in Tagkawayan.Credit…Jes Aznar/Getty Images
Such mass efforts, which took place even as some typhoon evacuation centers were being used to house coronavirus patients, surely saved lives. But the building damage sustained by Goni in the Bicol region, with roofs sheared off buildings and torrents of water uprooting entire houses, will become clearer as day breaks on Monday and the displaced make their way back to their homes.
Compounding matters, ABS-CBN, a popular news network that offered crucial free TV and radio broadcasts, had been ordered off the air in August, after President Rodrigo Duterte accused it of bias. Many Filipinos in remote provinces had seen the network as a lifeline as they struggled to cope with emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic. Without ABS-CBN’s broadcasts, some of those most jeopardized by Goni were left without access to critical information.
In Albay Province, one of the worst-hit areas of Bicol, A.J. Miraflor, a resident, said the typhoon had been “powerful and winds were howling.”
On social media, Mr. Miraflor posted dramatic images from his mobile phone of people stranded on their rooftops as floodwaters swept through the village of Cagsawa. But another typhoon in 2006, which killed 2,000 people, had been even worse, Mr. Miraflor said, a reminder that Goni is no isolated event.
Last week, 22 people were killed as Typhoon Molave cut a path across the same region that Goni powered through.
If Goni had maintained its ferocity and taken a different path, the damage would have been hard to fathom. Up to 20 million people might have been affected, said Ricardo Jalad, the head of the national disaster agency.
The sea level in Atimonan. Typhoon Goni pushed powerful waves up the coast.Credit…Jes Aznar/Getty Images
Before the storm system was downgraded in intensity, the national weather agency had warned of “complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings,” as well as “total damage to banana plantations.” All signs and billboards in affected areas were in danger of being blown down, and electricity and telecommunications services would be “severely disrupted,” the agency said.
Such warnings will now be reserved for when — not if — the next big storm comes to the Philippines. The national weather agency is already warning that another tropical storm, Atsani, will soon be following in Goni’s footsteps.
Hannah Beech reported from Bangkok and Jason Gutierrez from Manila.