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We commiserate with Harvey’s victims

The Philippines, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), has expressed its sympathy with the United States for the deaths and devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas in the last few days. “Our hearts go to the people of Houston, including the thousands of our kababayans, who have gone through this terrible ordeal,” DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said.

As a country that is hit so often by typhoons, we can understand the great difficulties that the people of southern Texas are now going through. After the hurricane – the most powerful to hit Texas in more than 50 years – came late last Friday, heavy rains followed, swelling rivers that surged into neighborhoods 150 miles downstream. The Brazosriver southwest of Houston hit a record 18 meters, a high not seen in the last 800 years.

Hundreds of people were rescued by boats and helicopters. Hundreds of thousands of homes were left without electric power. Airports were closed down. The nation’s second largest refinery was shut down, reducing power supply that will affect the whole of southeast United States. The damage is expected to reach some $50 billion.

Fortunately the death toll was not very high – eight persons dead and more than a dozen injured as of Tuesday. In comparison, when Hurricane Karina hit New Orleans in 2005, it killed 1,800 people. In the Philippines, typhoon Yolanda killed 6,300 in 2013.

President Donald Trump visited Texas Tuesday after signing a disaster proclamation that launched federal relief efforts. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said 50 counties had been declared disaster areas and since Hurricane Harvey was not moving out of the area, more rains were expected to flood the coastal area, along with southwestern Louisiana.

The unusually destructive hurricane may be seen as further evidence of climatic change that is happening all over the world today. Scientists believe the unusually severe weather is due to rising global temperatures caused, in turn, by increased carbon dioxide emissions in the world’s industrial nations led by the US and China. At the Parish Climate Change Agreement in 2015, 195 nations agreed to carry out national programs towards a global effort to limit the world temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

At the start of his administration, however, President Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement, as he saw it as negatively affecting the US coal industry whose workers make up a big part of his mass support base. Now that the US has been hit with such severe weather that has not been seen in hundreds of years, he may need to rethink his policy on climate change.

In the meantime, we join the rest of the world in commiserating with the people of Texas and Louisiana who have suffered and will continue to suffer from the once-in-a-lifetime devastation inflicted by Hurricane Harvey.