Typhoon Hagupit: What did the Philippines do differently?

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A young boy helps others in shovelling out sand from their homes in Legazpi, Albay province, eastern Philippines Monday, Dec. 8Image source, AP
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After the storm, Legazpi residents have begun the clear-up operation

For the hundreds of families who took shelter from Typhoon Hagupit inside a school in Albay province, the wait is finally over.

Today they find out what state their homes and fields are in after days inside a strong building to protect them from the powerful gusts of winds and endless rain.

"I hope that our house wasn't destroyed or damaged by [the] typhoon or that it was not in the flood," says 16-year-old Ronna Mae Salturio.

Her family, one of many living in small shanties along the road, is getting ready to be taken home in a military truck with the few essentials they brought with them.

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Ronna Mae Salturio: "We got nervous so we stayed here"

They might be worried about their future, but they have survived.

At least 21 people are known to have died during Hagupit, but that's a stark comparison with last year when more than 7,000 died or went missing from Typhoon Haiyan which left mass destruction in its wake.

There are still remote parts of Samar that are unreachable, due to floods or downed trees blocking roads, and there could be significant destruction and loss of life there.

But for the most part, the Philippines looks to have averted disaster on a national scale.

For some, it shows the government has learned its lesson and preparations were made in time.

Image source, AP
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Residents were able to return to their homes within hours of Hagupit's passing
Image source, AP
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Some tried to salvage belongings in fast-flowing water
Image source, AP
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Relief at the low death toll was tempered by the damage to many homes

President Benigno Aquino's administration faced much criticism for the slow response in getting food and aid to Tacloban and other areas after Haiyan.

In the Philippines, where bad weather is a part of life, Albay province is seen as a leading example of disaster management. In 1995, it set up a separate office solely to deal with emergencies and it looks to have paid off.

A total of 128,998 families were evacuated from low lying or mudslide-prone areas to schools, community centres and other stronger buildings, with the help of trucks and personnel from the military.

The governor told the BBC he went on the radio to encourage people to leave their homes and property behind.

They were also given incentives in the form of bags of rice, which for those living in poverty is a big draw.

It's all part of what the provincial government says was its strategy to minimise risk and loss of life.

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Monday afternoon's scenes were a far cry from the worry etched on Legazpi residents' faces earlier
Image source, AFP
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Though there were few casualties, Hagupit has still wreaked extensive damage across the eastern Philippines

"Evacuation rather than rescue, that's our doctrine," says Cedric Daep, Chief of the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office.

He says they met days before the expected typhoon with local mayors to identify the major hazards. Floods, landslides, storm surges, mud flow and strong winds could destroy houses made of light materials.

Haiyan was so deadly largely because of the huge unexpected storm surges it brought with it which wiped away entire communities.

So knowing that, evacuating from low lying areas looks to have paid off.

"We are happy with the result that we achieved zero casualty," Mr Daep says.

And at the national level, food and aid distribution centres were set up early. Both the government and aid agencies were poised to act before the storm this time as opposed to reacting after.

Image source, Reuters
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Sacks of donated clothes have been piled up at evacuation centres like this one in Manila

President Aquino said before the typhoon struck that he would not be patient with excuses after this event and wanted to set a "zero casualty" target.

They also had help from the fact that Hagupit turned out to be much less destructive then predicted.

It was briefly classed as a super typhoon as it approached the Philippines, with winds of 250km/h, but by the time it hit land on Saturday it had reduced in speed significantly.

But even then, it was increased awareness of the dangers of the typhoon that made people nervous enough to leave their homes.

That fear is the legacy that Haiyan has left here.