Beyond the Bubble

By Danny Zhang

Last Friday, Super Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest tropical cyclone ever to make landfall, cut a path of destruction through the archipelagic nation of the Philippines.

With sustained winds of 195 miles per hour, Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Yolanda, first slammed into Guiuan, a city of 50,000 in the province of Eastern Samar, located in the central eastern part of the country. Haiyan broke the windspeed record that previously belonged to Hurricane Camille, which hit Mississippi in 1969 with winds of up to 190 miles per hour. By comparison, Hurricane Katrina had sustained winds of 125 miles an hour when it slammed into Louisiana and Superstorm Sandy brought winds of 90 miles per hour when it made landfall in New Jersey.

Throughout the day on Friday, Typhoon Haiyan made landfall half a dozen times on different islands in the country. It exited the archipelago into the South China Sea late Friday and continued on a northwesterly path toward Vietnam. By late Sunday, after skirting the Chinese island of Hainan, Haiyan made landfall in northern Vietnam, bringing winds of only 90 miles per hour.

Initial estimates put the death toll in the Philippines as high as 10,000. Many seaside towns such as Tacloban, a city of 220,000 in Leyte province, lay almost completely in ruin. Dead bodies were strewn over local streets, ships were tossed ashore and vehicles were overturned while a massive storm surge inundated the city. Tacloban Airport, which lies on a strip of land jutting into the ocean, reported floodwaters of up to 13 feet. The Governor of Leyte said that there could be as many as 10,000 dead in Tacloban alone, most of whom drowned or were buried under collapsed buildings.

The Filipino government has been leading a major relief effort in the storm’s aftermath. Relief supplies such as food, water and clothing are being shipped via military planes to aid an estimated half a million people left homeless by the storm. The Filipino Red Cross and the UN Disaster Assessment team also arrived in the region over the weekend.

“The last time I saw something of this scale was in the aftermath of the [2004] Indian Ocean Tsunami,” said Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, the head of the UN team.

The Interior Secretary of the Philippines flew over the region to survey the damage. He told the media that no structures had been left standing from the shoreline to three-quarters of a mile inland.

The islands hardest hit by the storm have also been left without water, power or systems of communication. There have also been reported instances of looting, prompting the government to deploy extra police forces to keep order. Many roads leading to inland communities are washed out, complicating relief efforts as rescue teams struggled to reach more remote regions on the islands.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed Pacific Command to help coordinate relief efforts with the Filipino government and to provide equipment to help deliver relief supplies. The Canadian government has pledged $5 million in humanitarian relief, and the European Commission has also indicated that they are ready to assist.

The Philippines is no stranger to major natural disasters: in 1991, a massive volcanic eruption at Mount Pinatubo lowered global temperatures by an average of 0.5 degrees Celsius, and that same year, Typhoon Thelma killed 5,100 people in the central Philippines. If the death toll for Haiyan is indeed as high as estimated, it will become the deadliest natural disaster in the country’s history.

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