History’s strongest, most destructive and deadliest typhoon

Tony Lopez

Tony Lopez

Haiyan, (Yolanda locally), history’s strongest typhoon pummeled just before dawn Friday, November 8, central Philippines, cutting across the midsection of the archipelago of 7,100 islands. In less than twelve hours, the cyclone devastated cities, towns and coastal villages of the Visayas, causing record deaths of at least 10,000 people and destruction of horrific and biblical proportions.

Haiyan barreled west northwest from east of Mindanao onto the Philippines’ central islands.

About ten million people (more than two million families) are affected in 7,027 barangays or villages in 455 towns and 49 cities located in 41 provinces in nine of the country’s 16 regions.

Two factors accounted for Yolanda’s colossal damage: its speed at landfall of 195 miles per hour (312 kph) and gusts of up to 235 mph (376 kph), and, its storm surge, which proved to be more deadly. Yolanda, which came at dawn, is stronger than the previous record holder, hurricane Camille which made landfall in Mississippi in 1969 with 190 mph (304 kph) winds.

Yolanda gathered ocean waves into five-meter walls of water and lugged them up to one kilometer inland into otherwise bustling towns and cities and sleepy coastal villages of the Visayas.

Death and destruction
The result was death and destruction of terrifying magnitude never experienced before by man in this part of the world. Villages and towns were leveled to the ground. People, animals, buildings, houses, trees, power poles, vehicles and nearly every standing structure were devoured by onrushing waves and floodwaters. Columnist Chit Pedrosa described the experience as related to her by a relative from Palo, Leyte: “It was like being inside a washing machine.”

Overseas, Haiyan was considered a Category 5 hurricane. A Category 5 has wind speed of 252 kph (Haiyan had 380 kph wind gusts). There is “complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings. Some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. Flooding causes major damage to lower floors of all structures near the shoreline. Massive evacuation of residential areas may be required. Storm surge will be 18 feet plus,” according to the Saffir/Simpson Hurricane Scale.

Storms are called typhoons in the Northwest Pacific and hurricanes in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific. The ingredients for these storms include a pre-existing weather disturbance, warm tropical oceans, moisture, and relatively light winds. If the right conditions persist long enough, they can combine to produce the violent winds, incredible waves, torrential rains, and floods we associate with this phenomenon, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Dazed like zombies
Saturday morning, after Yolanda’s crossing, in battered cities and villages, survivors walked dazed like zombies, trying to retrieve their dead and whatever was left of their belongings. A monstrous crisis became obvious. There was no power, no drinking water, no food, no medicines, no basic medical facilities, no communications. It is unlikely power would be restored in the affected areas immediately as 90% of electric poles were felled.

By Sunday, hungry and angry crowds looted supermarkets and grocery stores in Tacloban, a city of 221,000 people and the capital of Leyte province (population: 1.78 million). The automatic teller machines (ATMs) of banks were also ransacked.

President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd made a surprise visit to Tacloban Sunday. After hearing the gory details, he walked out of the briefing by his officials, only to come back after ten minutes. A businessman suggested to him to declare martial law—a stupid idea considering that basic to military rule is regular curfew. Since 90% of the residents were rendered homeless, then 90% of them will have to violate the curfew and thus be sent to jail, a better possibility for the people since they would be assured possibly of shelter, food and water under government custody. A military spokesman said “martial law has never crossed our mind.”

At Tacloban’s all but gone airport, BS Aquino was confronted by angry Leyteños who demanded from him food, water and other basic needs. He blamed local government officials for the breakdown in peace and order. “They are the necessary first responders, and too many of them were also affected (and) could not report for work,” the President said. He bristled at the idea of hunger in the area. “We have three million sacks of rice in the affected regions,” he said. He also disclosed the displaced families will be relocated to 300 hectares of government-owned land.

Tacloban became world famous overnight for the scale of death and destruction it absorbed. Mayor Alfred Romualdez estimated up to 10,000 people could have died in the province. He likened the storm surge to a tsunami. “It looked like a tsunami,” he told mediamen.

Casualty estimate not cast in stone
“I have not spoken to anyone who has not lost someone, a relative close to them. We are looking for as many as we can,” he said. There are 47,000 families in his town. Each family has five members. If each family lost a loved one, then easily the death toll could rise above the 10,000 toll he estimated.

The 10,000 casualty toll was also given by Leyte Governor Dominic Petilla, basing the figure on reports from village officials whose areas still have to be reached by authorities.

Philippine Red Cross Chair and CEO Richard Gordon placed the death toll at 1,200 the day after the typhoon, Saturday, but cautioned “that estimate is not cast in stone. There could be a lot more. There are a lot more dead and this is just in Tacloban. There are a lot more dead along the coastlines.” The Red Cross sent assessment teams on the ground.

In Tacloban and in many areas of the typhoon’s deadly swath, about 90% of the houses and buildings were damaged, their roofs blown away, their walls collapsing, their foundations cracked or gone. Bridges were cut in half. Concrete roads were cracked like biscuits. Most standing structures—buildings, houses, electric poles, steel towers, coconut, bananas and other trees—fell or were leveled to the ground.

Outside Tacloban and Leyte, death and devastation were equally appalling. Hardest hit were a dozen other provinces inside the typhoon’s 600-km wide path of destruction covering nine of the country’s 14 regions. The provinces and places which bore the brunt of Yolanda’s wrath are where the weather bureau (Pagasa) raised an unusually high typhoon signal, No. 4: Leyte (population: 1.789 million), Eastern Samar (population: 429,000), Northern Samar (589,000), Samar (Western Samar, 735,377), and Southern Leyte (399,000)—all in Eastern Visayas (Region VIII). In Central Visayas (Region VII), Cebu province (population: 2.69 million, including Cebu City with a population of 868,000) also sustained damage.

Western Visayas (Region VI) was not as badly hit as Eastern Visayas although Signal No. 4 was also raised over Aklan (population: 49,500; its Kalibo and Caticlan airports were immobilized for two days), Antique (81,200), Capiz (11,000), Iloilo (381,000), Guimaras (530 people), and the northern part of Negros Occidental (the province has a population of 100,000).

The crisis in the Visayas severely strained the capacity and competence of an administration once derided by Senator Joker Arroyo as a student council government and under siege for holding on up to P450 billion in pork barrel funds assembled from savings of agencies under Aquino’s much despised Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). The money apparently was not spent on disaster preparation and relief.



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  1. The DAP is the Drilon Abad Purisima brainchild to upgrade the numbers as per the NEDA report.

  2. Voice from the Wilderness on

    This is one of the reason why these DAP and PDAF should be abolished because scarce resources of the government are not allocated properly and instead being utilized by the legislators and the present inutile president in malacanang for their personal political agenda advancement. If a part of this 450 billion PDAF and DAP budget were allocated to disaster preparedness like buying one heavy transport Chinook helicopter which can rapidly transport considerable quantity of cargoes and equipment to disaster areas, then the present predicament in logistics could had been alleviated. Likewise, if a big potion was also allocated in the agricultural sector which is the biggest sector of the economy to generate jobs, then the growth in GDP could have trickle down for an inclusive growth to create jobs.

  3. So where were all the self-proclaimed meteorological experts of the major tv stations, meteorology 101 states that strong winds generate high storm surges – everybody knew that yolanda packed an average of 250 km/hr winds, so how come nobody warned the coastal communities of the impending danger?