MANILA, Philippines – A Filipina living in New York said instincts that come from being a Filipino helped them prepare for superstorm “Sandy”.
Pam Tanjuatco, a New York resident who works in New Jersey, told ANC’s “Prime Time” on Thursday that from her experience and from the lives of other Filipinos she has spoken to, the Filipino community in the US East Coast faced the disaster with calm.
Tanjuatco attributes the composed anticipation to their experiences back home during disasters.
“We approached this with an instinct, with some sort of calm, and I think it has to do with the fact that we’ve experienced this many times in the past. It’s funny because when word came out that Sandy was going to hit us, our first instinct was to make 'igib' water to make sure that we had water,” she said.
Tanjuatco added that she may have been the only one in her building with a “tabo” (water dipper) and a “balde” (pail).
She also said Filipinos had an advantage in preparing food that would not easily spoil in the event of a power outage: the Filipino dish “adobo”.
“In the supermarket, our instinct was to buy food that would keep. I was thinking, ‘OK, I’ll make adobo just in case we ran out of power or our refrigerators won’t be working, so at least we’ll have food that will keep,’” she said.
“It is this instinct that makes me kind of proud because of how Filipinos behave this way. It’s definitely something we’ve seen before. I’ll liken this maybe to ‘Milenyo’. I didn’t experience ‘Milenyo’ but I saw pictures of the devastation,” she added.
The superstorm hit southern New Jersey on Monday, bringing hurricane-strong winds and heavy rains that Tanjuatco can only describe as “surreal.”
She said during the height of the storm, she attempted to go outside of her New York apartment to check the surroundings.
“It was like a movie…The sky was lit, it was weird. It was a bright sky and then you realize it was because of transformers exploding everywhere. So you hear that, too,” said Tanjuatco.
Tanjuatco believes that aside from her instincts, which she attributed to being a Filipino, it was also the early warnings from the local government that helped her prepare for the storm.
She said the 3 states badly hit by Sandy—New York, New Jersey and Connecticut—had been prepared a week before the storm even hit.
Several states had also declared a state of emergency even before the storm made landfall.
Officials also ordered a mandatory evacuation in low-lying areas, urging residents to flee to higher ground.
Lessons from US response
Edgar Ollet, head of the Philippine National Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) operations center, explained to ANC that there is a big difference between how local governments in the US and the Philippines handle disasters.
“Perception in the US is different. It’s more upscale in terms of how they handle the information. They are science-based and they work together and the way they communicate it to the people periodically, the regularity and the platform,” said Ollet.
He said Filipinos also have the tendency to only “follow the leaders whom they trust.”
“Filipinos are more personal rather than just viewing it from the TV or radio, that is why it is good to strengthen the community-based strategy for Filipinos,” he said.
Ollet also pointed out that the US had implemented protocols days before the storm hit land.
“Protocols are in place and the federal [government] knew what had to be done. The evacuation was 2 to 3 days ahead, so the expectation and the anticipation is there,” he said.
He also cited language barrier and access to information as problems in disaster management in the Philippines.
“Here in the Philippines, the cities in Metro Manila have the edge in terms of accessing the information, but the rural may not have [access],” he said.
Ollet said the government has been working towards sufficiency in funding preemptive measures, rather than taking on a reactionary approach.
But he admits that a lot still has to be done, including working on the comprehensive land use plan and upgrading technology to forecast typhoons.