Haiyan sweeps away complacency

Haiyan sweeps away complacency
Survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan in a religious procession in Tolosa on the eastern Philippine island of Leyte on Monday.

Filipinos have always had a sense of complacency when it comes to natural calamities. After all, their country is visited by some 20 typhoons annually.

Super Typhoon Haiyan wiped that all away on Nov 8. In its aftermath, what the people feel is a sense of unease, and an even greater distrust of government.

"People now know exactly what a storm surge is. When they hear a storm surge is coming, they will head to the mountains," University of the Philippines (UP) psychologist Flora Generalao told The Straits Times in Cebu.

Most of those who died when Haiyan struck are believed to have drowned when a seven-metre-high storm surge created by 300kmh winds rolled through coastal areas in Leyte and Samar provinces in the central Philippines. It destroyed Tacloban, the provincial capital of Leyte where nearly 4,000 are said to have been killed.

Dr Generalao said both the government and the people had made preparations ahead of the typhoon's arrival, but they had prepared for something they had experienced before.

"Yolanda was something different," she said, referring to the local name for Haiyan.

She said the typhoon "jolted us to a new level of attention".

Professor Greg Lloren, also of UP, said the "we can weather any storm" mentality worked against the Philippines this time.

He said recent typhoons like Ketsana, which struck in 2009 and paralysed the capital region, had been so severe that surviving them had become a badge of honour among Filipinos.

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