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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Super typhoon Haiyan strongest on record with over 10,000 feared dead in Philippines

On the eve of the annual United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) meeting in Warsaw Poland, an extreme weather disaster has struck the Philippines with record-breaking Super-typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda), bringing devastating winds and storm surge.

Over 10,000 people are feared dead ,according to several media reports like this one in the Sydney Morning Herald, just in the province of Leyte, where the regional city of Tacloban, population of 221,000, was right in the path of the northern hurricane eye wall experiencing the full ferocity of destructive winds and tsunami like storm surge of over 5 metres.

The city has been estimated as 95 per cent devastated, with massive building destruction and damage, and substantial casualties, with people requiring emergency food and water supplies.

Here is how three Hurricane chasers from iCyclone reported on Facebook of the immediate aftermath:

First off, Tacloban City is devastated. The city is a horrid landscape of smashed buildings and completely defoliated trees, with widespread looting and unclaimed bodies decaying in the open air. The typhoon moved fast and didn't last long-- only a few hours-- but it struck the city with absolutely terrifying ferocity. At the height of the storm, as the wind rose to a scream, as windows exploded and as our solid-concrete downtown hotel trembled from the impact of flying debris, as pictures blew off the walls and as children became hysterical, a tremendous storm surge swept the entire downtown. Waterfront blocks were reduced to heaps of rubble. In our hotel, trapped first-floor guests smashed the windows of their rooms to keep from drowning and screamed for help, and we had to drop our cameras and pull them out on mattresses and physically carry the elderly and disabled to the second floor. Mark's leg was ripped open by a piece of debris and he'll require surgery. The city has no communication with the outside world. The hospitals are overflowing with the critically injured. The surrounding communities are mowed down. After a bleak night in a hot, pitch-black, trashed hotel, James, Mark, and I managed to get out of the city on a military chopper and get to Cebu via a C-130-- sitting next to corpses in body bags. Meteorologically, Super Typhoon HAIYAN was fascinating; from a human-interest standpoint, it was utterly ghastly. It's been difficult to process.

Stongest cyclonic storm on record

Super Typhoon Haiyan was a category 5 Super Typhoon, one of the strongest cyclonic storms ever recorded. The sea surface temperature of the waters of the Western Pacific have been abnormally high. August 2013 had record global sea surface temperatures, according to NOAA. Sea Surface temperatures are one of the factors that contributes to stronger tropical cyclones.

"The waters [in that part of the Pacific] are extremely warm, so with the right atmospheric conditions and steering currents, you have the ideal making of a storm that can eventually develop into a super typhoon," said Hans Graber, a professor of marine physics at Florida’s University of Miami in an article by National Geographic.

Weathernation on Super Typhoon Haiyan (7 November 2013) on youtube:

The super typhoon was the 25th to enter the Philippines Area of responsibility this year. On average 20 typhoons hit the Philippines each year.

Mary Ann Lucille Sering, head of the Philippine government's climate change commission, told the Guardian, "Extreme weather is becoming more frequent, you could even call it the new normal," Sering said. "Last year one typhoon [Bopha] hurt us very much. If this continues we are looking at a big drain on resources."

According to Dr Jeff Master in an article on, "Haiyan had winds of 190 - 195 mph (315 km/h) at landfall, making it the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall in world history. The previous record was held by the Atlantic's Hurricane Camille of 1969, which made landfall in Mississippi with 190 mph winds." Wind gusts up to 378 km/h (235 mph) were detected.

While the science still says that this typhoon was in the realms of natural variability, climate change has clearly loaded the dice for more intense stronger storms of this kind happening more frequently. Andrew Freedman at Climate Central puts together current scientific thinking in Super Typhoon Haiyan: A Hint of What’s to Come?.

The typhoon made 1st Landfall over Guiuan, Eastern Samar at 4.40am 8 November, 2013. Second landfall was made over Tolosa, Leyte at 7am and third landfall over Daanbantayan, Cebu at 9.40am. It made it's sixth and last landfall in the Philippines at 8pm over Busuanga, Palawan, before moving towards West Philippine Sea heading for North Vietnam. Four million three hundred thousand people in 36 provinces were directly affected by the typhoon with 477,735 being displaced according to the National Disaster Risk Rediction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

The Philippines Project NOAH had predicting a 17 feet (5.3 meter) storm tide along a 20 mile swath of coast. Much of Tacloban is at elevations less than ten feet.

Watch raw footage from Earth Uncut - Super Typhoon Yolanda / Haiyan Hits Tacloban on youtube.

The United Nations Relief web reported on November 9:
Devastation in Tacloban City, Leyte province, is severe according to the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team, which deployed on a military aircraft in the early morning of 9 November with members of the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT). The UNDAC team described the scale of destruction comparable to the impact of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. According to the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), flood waters were approximately 3 metres high and brought in by a storm surge in Tacloban City.

There is no food, water and no electricity in Tacloblan City. Partners report looting and insecurity in the town. The road linking the airport to the city is impassable due to debris and cadavers. Movement throughout Leyte is not possible until the roads are cleared which is expected to pose significant logistical challenges in the emergency relief operations. Humanitarian partners were advised to be self-sustaining with adequate supplies upon deployment to the affected areas. Many tourists are reported to be stranded in Tacloban City and in need of consular services.

Reports from government sources indicate over 100 people were found dead on the streets in Tacloban City, but are yet to be confirmed. An aerial survey conducted by the Government, HCT members and UNDAC over Leyte indicates significant damage to coastal areas with heavy ships thrown to the shore, many houses destroyed and vast tracts of agricultural land decimated.

In Bogo City and San Remigio, northern Cebu, the PRC reported significant damage to houses and sugar plantations. One elementary school in the area was flattened to the ground and public markets are without roofing. Another PRC assessment team reported that over 50 per cent of houses in Santa Rita, Samar province were damaged. In Calbayog, santa Margarita, Gandar, Tarangnan and San Jorge, agriculture was severely affected.

Watch raw footage from Earth Uncut - Super typhoon Yolanda / Haiyan Aftermath Tacloban City 9th November 2013 Breaking News Footage youtube.

Humanitarian response is hampered due to the closure of airports and seaports and significant debris on roads. Two C-130 military planes flew in food and water and relif supplies for distribution to evacuation centres.

Watch Tacloban devastated by super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) on youtube

Money for Climate adaptation

The link between climate change and more intense typhoons has been raised by Philippines climate coalition Aksyon Klima. In a media release on November 7 Voltaire Alferez, Aksyon Klima national coordinator, said “Super typhoon Yolanda, which is reportedly stronger than last year’s super typhoon Pablo, is an example of the stronger typhoons we can expect to see as global warming continues to fuel more extreme weather,”

The organisation is pushing for developed countries to fill the Green Climate Fund to aid in climate adaptation in developing countries. The fund is supposed to provide $100 billion every year by 2020 for adaptation and mitigation efforts, but still remains empty.

Aksyon Klima is also critical of progress in Philippines climate adaptation fund and shifting out of coal burning, “The Philippines is known as a progressive voice in the UN negotiations, and yet we can’t even put our own climate fund together, nor start the shift from coal to renewable energy,” Alferez lamented.

“We challenge the Aquino administration to be more proactive in helping local governments and communities protect themselves from storm surges, heavy rains, floods, and more,” Alferez added.

“Aquino and his cohorts have also repeatedly defended its coal-centric policy while underestimating the country’s capacity and readiness for renewable energy. If the proposed coal-fired power plants are approved, we are signing up for more emissions and more of this kind of extreme weather,” he said.

Photoessay from a storm chaser

Jim Edds (@ExtremeStorms) is a cameraman in Tacloban there reporting on the storm and it's aftermath. These are evocative and strong images. Warning: strong content.

Background articles on previous Typhoons:

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