It’s raining in Manila. It’s a warm, drippy sort of shower that falls straight from a grey sky onto the tarmac with a gentle pattering sound that is all but swallowed by the rumble of traffic, the honking of horns and the incessant blowing of whistles by traffic police and parking attendants as they attempt to control the morass of vehicles choking in the damp avenues. Palm fronds hang limp in the still tropical air, weighed down by the smell of exhaust fumes, warm asphalt and wafts from open sewers. Or perhaps it’s the tension.
Five days after Manila suffered its worst flooding in three decades, the city is holding its breath again. Typhoon Parma, hot on the heels of its predecessor Ketsana, rolls ashore tonight. We’re not sure where it’s going, only that it’s on its way. A Category 4 ‘Super-Typhoon’, the prognosis isn’t great. It’s still intensifying, and will continue to do so until it makes landfall somewhere along the north-eastern coast of the Philippines, most likely somewhere north of the capital. It’s expected to pack wind-gusts in excess of 230kph (140mph). It’s also due to slow right down. Which is bad news. When a storm slows down, it has longer to dump the rain held in the saturated air caught up in the vortex of its system. Ketsana dumped more than 40cm (16 inches) in 9 hours- a month’s rainfall in one go, and Parma is set to deposit anywhere upwards of 25cm (8 inches). The mountainous terrain of northern Luzon is already saturated and can’t hold much water, and the steep mountain slopes are primed to slide. Large landslides are a perpetual hazard to the archipelago.
The parking lot in the office compound here has been the site of frenetic activity all day today, as dozens of young volunteers continue to prepare food packs and emergency kits for families already displaced by Typhoon Ketsana. It’s Friday night here, but none of us are expecting a quiet weekend. It is still possible that the storm will swing north and only strike Luzon a glancing blow, and for the sake of the people here we pray it will go that way. But already the storm has tracked further south than predicted, and there are reports that some of the outlying islands are already being battered by the storm. It’s due to hit around midnight tonight, in about eight hours, and then stick around for a further 24. If the highways and phone lines are cut, it may take days before we know exactly what happens. All we can do for now is place our teams on standby, and hope for the best.