Real-time rainfall data a challenge as Usman death toll rises

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 07 2019 11:53 AM | Updated as of Jan 07 2019 12:11 PM

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MANILA - Communication from the national to local level remains a challenge in preparing for calamities, a disaster official said Monday, as the death toll from tropical depression Usman reached 126.

National disaster agency spokesperson Edgar Posadas said they have already recommended several measures to President Rodrigo Duterte after the initial assessment in the storm's aftermath. For one, local governments need real-time rainfall data, before, during, and after typhoons so they can disseminate proper information.

"As they happen dapat talagang nakikita nila. Tapos 'yung pag-e-enhance sa awareness ng local chief executives sa kanilang hazard assessment, early warning systems, and communication," he said.

(They need to see the data as they happen. Then we need to enhance the awareness of local chief executives in their hazard assessment, early warning systems, and communication.)

"Nirekomenda din po natin 'yung pag-pursue ng DICT ng government emergency communication system para matugunan natin 'yung ating challenge sa communications," he added.

(We recommended the DICT to pursue its government emergency communication system to address the challenge in communications.)

The NDRRMC also recommended the relocation and resettlement of residents in areas deemed "highly susceptible" to landslides, Posadas said.

The official earlier said local government officials were given "enough information" ahead of Usman's onslaught and that 2,700 floods prone areas were identified as early as December 26.

Wrong forecast on Usman?

But University of the Philippines Professor Mahar Lagmay said forecasts on Usman were wrong, particularly the outlook on the rains it would bring.

In a Facebook post, Lagmay said the forecast on December 28 and 29 showed Usman would bring moderate to heavy rains, but the storm brought intense to torrential rains.

"Malaki ang diperensiya nito, lalung-lalo na dahil ang sukat ng moderate (2.5-7.5 mm/hr), heavy (7.5-15 mm/hour), intense (15-30 mm/hour) at torrential (>30 mm/hour) ay kada oras," he said.

(That's a big difference, especially because rainfall is measured by the amount of water per hour.)

The professor said people likely thought the storm was weak because the forecast showed that only signal no. 1, the weakest and storm warning signals, was raised by the weather agency.

"Wala pong kinalaman ang signal number sa dami ng ulan dahil ang signal numbers ng PAGASA ay lakas ng hangin ang basehan," he said, stressing torrential rains fell in Bicol before Usman's landfall.

These rains, he added, are triggers of landslides in mountainous areas, and a lot of areas in Bicol were deemed susceptible to landslides by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau's hazard maps.

"Kung walang identified na pinakaligtas na lugar at lahat ay mapanganib, hindi nagagamit o nahihirapan gamitin ang hazard map ng mga tao sa komunidad at ng LGU," he said.

(If there were no safe places identified for evacuation, then the hazard maps were not used, or maybe people in the community and local governments are having difficulties using it.)

Lagmay, who teaches at UP's National Institute of Geological Sciences, was the director of the defunct Project NOAH, a government-funded disaster preparedness program.

Posadas said he has already talked to Lagmay and he has taken note of the professor's insights.