Haiyan — called Yolanda in the Philippines — may have been the strongest tropical cyclone ever to make landfall.
We are now passing the 72 hour inflection point since the initial event. The President of the Philippines Red Cross has described the situation in the hardest-hit central islands as “absolute bedlam”.
I know several readers are already engaged in helping or preparing to help the survivors. Godspeed.
For the rest of us there are some potential implications for domestic preparedness and response in the United States:
Water, food, pharmaceuticals, and medical goods are all in short supply. The contamination of local water sources is creating an especially significant health risk.
A US State Department official has told me, “The most crucial need is local logistics. We can get what’s needed into the area. But we’re not able to effectively redistribute from the depots.”
The World Food Program told a CNN reporter, “The main challenges right now are related to logistics. Roads are blocked, airports are destroyed.” Damaged — or entirely destroyed — port facilities mean freighters with resources can get close but are very slow to disperse cargo.
A national legislator from one hard-hit provincial capital told a Manila television station that fuel shortages are now further complicating the ongoing response and recovery.
Red Cross supplies that were being pre-positioned last week have not been able to secure passage from one island to another.
Power is not expected to be restored to many areas for months. Telecommunications networks are down.
A rather weird coincidence: In late October I participated in a regional exercise that included a CAT-5 Hurricane Yolanda hitting the metro Miami area with catastrophic consequences, reforming in the Gulf and then slamming into the Texas-Louisiana coast taking out several refineries. Just the secondary and tertiary effects on mid-Atlantic supply chains were similar to what we are seeing now in the Philippines.
For most critical commodities there is significant strategic capacity and resilience in most (not all) supply chains. As noted above, options exist to ensure sourcing sufficient for survivors. Connecting this capacity to local tactical capability — especially fuel, trucking, and street-level distribution — becomes a very complex problem-to-be-solved.
In my judgment, our understanding of how to even begin to engage this problem in a catastrophic context is just barely beginning to emerge.
The Philippines rough equivalent to FEMA is providing REGULAR UPDATES HERE.
Map showing proximity and density of population to hurricane path. More detailed look available at ReliefWeb.