Haiyan struck last Friday with sustained winds of 147mph (235km/h), gusts of 170 mph (275 km/h) and waves as high as 45 feet (15m). 942 people are said to have died in the aftermath of the super typhoon, though the official death toll could be over 10,000. More than 630,000 have been displaced as a result of one of the most powerful storms ever to strike the Philippines.
Residents of the city of Tacloban in Leyte province describe seawater filling their houses up to the second floor and washing over streets; the city’s airport is flooded up to its roof. Another city of 35,000 residents, Baco, in Oriental Mindoro province, is said to be mostly underwater. The town of Guiuan, which faced the east and has a population of 40,000, is described as “largely destroyed.”
Mar Roxas, the Philippine interior minister, told reporters in Tacloban that “the devastation here is absolute.” With phone lines down, officials say that the absence of reports about many other areas including coastal villages located near the water could mean that they have been very severely affected.
Aid crews and the Philippines armed forces are now struggling to reach affected areas on roads made impassable by downed trees, power lines and collapsed buildings. Bridges are washed out; Richard Gordon, the chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, said that, when one of his agency’s vehicles had to stop at a collapsed bridge, people essentially “captured” it. Looting and robberies are being widely reported, though, in some cases, people are simply seeking supplies to survive.
A “Different Type of Storm”
In all, six central Philippines islands were struck by Haiyan. After the typhoon struck, the islands at first seemed to be spared as a massive amount of rain did not fall and cause mudslides and swell rivers. But the storm surge, which reached up to 13 feet, is thought to have caused most of the destruction. Prof. Rick Murray, a Boston University oceanographer whose expertise is in Asian climate systems, told the New York Times that Haiyan was “tight, nearly perfectly circular, with incredibly high wind speeds. It is right out of the textbooks.”
Others, including Gjeff Lamigo, who manages communications for World Vision Philippines, emphasize that Typhoon Haiyan is a “different type of storm,” of far greater intensity than the many tropical storms that routinely strike the Philippines in the Pacific. Haiyan was not only different in magnitude and diameter; it touched down six times. In some places, as much as 15.75 inches of rain fell.
The United States, Australia, New Zealand and other nations have promised aid; international aid agencies and emergency teams are already in the Philippines to help. The country’s poor or non-existent infrastructure, its far-flung geography and a longstanding lack of resources are hampering relief efforts. Many evacuation centers in gymnasiums, schools and other sites designated by the government had their roofs ripped off or their ceilings cave in.
The Philippines is prone to natural disasters. Only four weeks ago, a magnitude-7.2 earthquake struck its central regions. The country averages about 20 typhoons a year, plus volcanic eruptions and floodings. Since 2002, the U.N. Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the Philippines has recorded 182 disasters, leading to the deaths of 11,000 people.
Typhoon Haiyan Compels Us to Restart Climate Change Talks
“Hard-won experience” has, though, led the Philippines to develop “new strategies for disaster preparedness, response and mitigation that have important potential applications in other parts of the world,” says the Guardian. The government has “firmly connected” Haiyan with climate change and is urging the governments meeting right now for a U.N. Climate Change conference in Warsaw to take decisive emergency action and resolve deadlocked climate change talks.
Says Yeb Sano, whose family is from Tacloban and who is the head of the Philippines’ delegation to the Warsaw talks, challenged climate skeptics to get down from their “ivory towers”:
“The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw. Typhoons such as Haiyan and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action..
“Science tells us that simply, climate change will mean more intense tropical storms. As the Earth warms up, that would include the oceans. The energy that is stored in the waters off the Philippines will increase the intensity of typhoons and the trend we now see is that more destructive storms will be the new norm.”
Sano says that one of his brothers, who survived Haiyan, has been gathering the bodies of the dead “with his own two hands.” He has also announced that he will refuse to eat until “meaningful” progress about climate change is made by other participants in Warsaw.
How You Can Help Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan
There are many ways you can help survivors of Typhoon Haiyan who are currently without power, food and clean water, among much else. Please donate to:
Mercy Corps, which is sending seasoned emergency responders to the Philippines .
UNICEF, which is helping children in urgent need of access to safe water, hygiene supplies, food, shelter and a safe environment.
The U.N’s World Food Programme which is providing emergency food assistance to families and children.
Oxfam, which is raising funds to provide water and sanitation materials.
ShelterBox, which is working to assist families affected by Typhoon Haiyan.
Save the Children, which has started a Typhoon Haiyan children’s relief fund.
The American Refugee Committee, which is preparing to deploy a relief team to the area.
UNHCR, which is distributing emergency shelter, household items and plastic sheets to 16,000 families.
CARE, which is rushing emergency supplies–like food baskets, shelter kits, and more–to those in need.
Handicap International UK, which is planning to identify disabled and vulnerable people, help them access humanitarian aid, provide crutches and wheelchairs, and support rehabilitation care for injured people.
Photo via European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr
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