Satellite image from space
When it hit land, in Leyte and Samar provinces in the Philippines, Typhoon Haiyan’s ferocity set records. Sustained winds were 250 kilometres (160 miles) an hour with gusts of over 300kph. But it was a 5-metre (16-foot) storm surge—an intense low pressure at the storm’s centre sucking the sea level upwards—that caused the worst damage.
The surge swept away the port-city of Tacloban as if it were a tsunami. The death toll stands at more than 2,300 victims drowned, hit by debris or trapped under rubble. The number will certainly rise as news trickles in from remote settlements. The devastation is wide, spread across six Philippine islands. Some Filipinos have been affected, many displaced or left homeless. With precious little aid so far coming in, it is the plight of the living that now matters. President Benigno Aquino called the super-typhoon a “national calamity”.
The scale of this catastrophe was unusual, but natural disasters are sadly familiar in the Philippines. It has among the world’s highest incidences of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Landslides, often triggered by deforestation, have pushed more people to the low-lying coast, where many eke out a living by fishing. Climate change may exacerbate the Philippines’ vulnerability: the country lies in a region where sea levels are rising faster than elsewhere, and global warming may be increasing the dangers of tropical storms. Yet however susceptible the Philippines is, there is much that it and countries like it, such as next-door Indonesia, can do to build resilience in the face of natural catastrophes.