Watching the coverage of the two devastating hurricanes in the US southeast the past couple of weeks made me think of some of the tropical cyclones I’ve experienced.
We don’t have hurricanes in Washington State where I’d lived all my life before we moved to the Philippines. So I had no idea what to expect when my first typhoon approached Manila.
Fortunately, my husband grew up on an island on the southeastern coast of China. China has more tropical cyclones than any other country on earth, most of them on the southeastern coast, so he’d been through quite a few. When the storm warnings came into the residents of Manila, Eugene knew exactly what to do.
I must have been too young and foolish to feel frightened. But I do remember being surprised at how much work it was to prepare for a typhoon. Here are some of the pre-typhoon tasks we did:
* We stocked up on food, candles, matches, and batteries for the radio;
* we removed pictures and scrolls from the walls and tucked them away, rolled up the carpets and pushed all the furniture as far from the windows as possible;
* and we filled pots, tubs, basins, and buckets with water. (We always kept water containers taller than our children in our bathrooms. Our water depended on our own electric pump.)
No one mentioned evacuation. With around six million people living in Manila at the time, few of them car owners, that could have been a big mess. Besides, when you live on an island, where can you go?
Over the years, we got used to preparing for typhoons and then putting things back again when the storm was past. The Philippines gets hit by more tropical cyclones each year than any country on earth besides China. We must have gone through dozens of them.
We were lucky though. We missed two of the most damaging typhoons. Typhoon Yoling hit Manila in 1970, less than a year before we arrived. We heard many stories of what people went through. Yoling left 611 people dead on land and 135 at sea. Metal roofs flew off houses, glass was shattered, acacias and palm trees were uprooted, and the electricity was off for weeks. The other big typhoon we missed was Ondoy which swept through Manila in 2009.
Port Vila, Vanuatu
In Vanuatu, they don’t call a tropical cyclone a hurricane or a typhoon. They just call it a cyclone.
Our life in Port Vila was usually peaceful, but Old Man Weather did shake, blow, and drench the country on a regular basis. During a three-year stay, we experienced a fair number of earthquakes and cyclones, and we visited one of its many volcanoes. Again, we were lucky–no tsunamis.
There’s something about living on a small island in the middle of a huge ocean that can make you feel small and helpless. If you think about it too much, you can imagine the wind and water blowing in and sweeping you off the other side of the island.
It didn’t happen, of course. Instead, when a cyclone hit Port Vila, we sat inside, listening to Australian weather news on the short-wave radio, and waited for it to pass.
I mentioned luck a couple of times. Obviously, good preparations and good choices by both individuals and governments are crucial. But you can’t rule out luck and the grace of God when it comes to surviving a typhoon or a hurricane.
Have you experienced hurricanes and/or typhoons? If so, I hope you were one of the lucky ones who made it through relatively unscathed.
I wish all the best to those touched by recent storms and wild fires.