In the face of a disaster

DisasterThumbIt’s never a good sign when there aren’t words to describe what has happened to you.  It’s never a good sign when scientists around the world stop trying to measure something because it’s so out of control.

Meteorologists are shaking their heads at the forces of nature that somehow conspired for the perfect storm. Super Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda, depending on who you ask) has ripped through island nations off the coast of Southeast Asia over the past week.

According to current estimates it is the strongest storm ever to make landfall, with sustained winds in excess of 190 mph. That’s the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane here in the States, well above the 156 mph mark set by the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

Just 35 other storms over the last hundred years have been recorded at such speeds.

According to Robert Simpson, one of the creators of the scale, there is little sense in classifying past a Category 5 because there is little change in the effects of the wind—apocalyptic devastation is basically guaranteed at this level.

Haiyan is no exception. The effects of the typhoon on the region—especially the Phillipines—are enormous in scale and sobering to consider.

The pictures are horrifying. Military planes and cargo helicopters survey ruined city blocks, haphazard islands of rubble between brown water canals that were once streets.

From a distance, it all seems to average out into a shapeless, speckled gray. Over 4,000 are already confirmed dead. Entire cities leveled.

Dr. Natasha Reyes of Doctors Without Borders reports, “Every single roof has blown off in a town of 45,000. The city’s hospital[…]used to be a 50-bed facility with X-ray, operating theaters, everything. The wind destroyed the concrete.”

Power, water, plumbing and other utilities are almost completely disabled, leaving many without adequate shelter even in the few places where structures still do stand.

Response teams are understaffed and struggling mightily to formulate distribution plans for food, water and medicine needed by the residents; the infrastructure has been overwhelmed by the massive damage sustained during the storm.

In the meantime, food trucks are being stolen and government warehouses raided as the chaos among the survivors approaches anarchy.

The looting is beginning to force the hand of the Phillipine President Benigo Aquino, who has already deployed hundreds of military police as he mulls enacting martial law.

International reaction, though slow at first, has been entirely supportive. Supranational bodies and individual countries alike have pledged to aid the affected areas.

The UN has drafted a resolution calling for $300 million in aid, of which $81 million has already been raised.

The Red Cross is spearheading the relief effort with a fundraising drive that has taken headlines all around us—on Facebook, in newspapers, on TV—asking for $10 donations.

In a show of grace, the communications company AT&T has waived calling restrictions for the Philippines. Because if there’s anything that all of the friends, relatives and citizens overseas  know, it’s that this is a time to come together.