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Recipe for a monster storm

The town of Guiuan was destroyed. Poor construction was no match for Haiyan’s surge and wind.

European Pressphoto Agency

The town of Guiuan was destroyed. Poor construction was no match for Haiyan’s surge and wind.

Nature and man together cooked up the disaster in the Philippines. Geography, meteorology, poverty, shoddy construction, a booming population, and, to a much lesser degree, climate change combine to make the Philippines the nation most vulnerable to killer typhoons.

STRENGTH: Typhoon Haiyan slammed the island nation with a storm surge two stories high and some of the highest winds ever measured in a tropical cyclone — 195 mph as clocked by U.S. satellites, or 147 mph based on local reports. "You have a very intense event hitting a very susceptible part of the world. It's that combination of nature and man," said MIT tropical meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel. "If one of those ingredients were missing, you wouldn't have a disaster."

GEOGRAPHY: The 7,000 islands of the Philippines sit in the middle of the world's most storm-prone region, which gets some of the biggest typhoons because of vast expanses of warm water that act as fuel and few pieces of land to slow storms down.

Half the storms on an informal list of the strongest ones to hit land in the 20th and 21st centuries ended up striking the Philippines, according to research by Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the Weather Underground.

HUMAN FACTOR: Humans played a big role in this disaster, too — probably bigger than nature's, meteorologists said. University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy figures that 75 to 80 percent of the devastation can be blamed on the human factor.

Meteorologists point to extreme poverty and huge growth in population — much of it in vulnerable coastal areas with poor construction, including storm shelters that didn't hold up against Haiyan.

More than 4 out of 10 Filipinos live in a storm-prone vulnerable city of more than 100,000, according to a 2012 World Bank study. The Haiyan-devastated provincial capital of Tacloban nearly tripled from about 76,000 to 221,000 in just 40 years. About one-third of Tacloban's homes have wooden exterior walls. And 1 in 7 homes have grass roofs, according to the census office.

TACLOBAN'S FATE: The city of about 220,000 people lies along the straits separating two islands. It was hit first by the typhoon sweeping in from the Pacific Ocean to the east and later by waves coming in from the west. Most of the deaths were caused by surges of seawater up to 13 feet high that witnesses described as more like a tsunami than a typhoon. Filipinos and veteran aid workers alike were stunned by the level of destruction from this storm, called Yolanda in the Philippines."We have at least 20 to 26 typhoons a year, especially this time of the year. The storm surge in Tacloban, which is surrounded by water, that was the one thing we were not able to anticipate. We never thought the effect would be that big," said Maj. Gen. Raul Gabriel L. Dimatatac, vice commander of the Philippine air force.

Associated Press, Los Angeles Times

Recipe for a monster storm 11/11/13 [Last modified: Monday, November 11, 2013 9:43pm]
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