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I was in Manila last week on  business when Typhoon Ondoy swamped the city. But when it hit, I had no idea it had.

That Saturday, I was staying at a hotel on Manila Bay. I heard rain falling all day, and the few times I went to the lobby to eat, I noticed staff mopping the floor—apparently some water had overflowed from the street into the lobby. The next day, I took a walk early in the morning, and I saw signs of flooding here and there, and a couple of intersections that contained a foot or two of water, but that was about it. The night I arrived, my taxi driver had welcomed me to "monsoon season," and I figured this was just a slightly more than typical rain for the Philippines.

I'm not a CNN watcher, and I had only sporadic Internet access at the hotel, so I used my online time only to check my emails, not the news. Unlike most hotels, a newspaper was not delivered to my door, and since I was immersed in a book at the time, I didn't feel the need for reading material on Sunday, the day after the rains hit. So I was clueless as to what had happened only a few miles away. I would have known more had I been in a hotel in Chicago.

I got my first clue when later that Sunday morning, a taxi driver refused to take me to a church in Makita City, a little south of where I was staying. He said he couldn't get there because of the flooding. Slowly I started to pick up that Ondoy was the worst storm to hit the Philippines in some 40 years, and that hundreds in Manila were dead (the figure now stands at around 250) and hundreds of thousands more left homeless—mostly squatters whose riverbank homes, and a few inhabitants, had been swept away in the floods. 

The next Saturday—when Typhoon Pepeng was supposed to have ...

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