Super Typhoon Haiyan

11 November 2013 — Poor building materials and weak connections between roofs and walls have been blamed for at least part of the devastating toll of up to 10,000 deaths from super typhoon Haiyan in The Philippines.

According to the UK’s Telegraph, Philippines President Benigno Aquino was forced to walk out of a meeting with local government officials in Tacloban City, when angry survivors interrupted the meeting to protesting at the government’s slow disaster response. In the city alone 10,000 people were feared to have perished, according to the city’s police chief.

“Almost every building in Tacloban was flattened on Friday, as raging, tsunami-like floods sent waves as high as seven metres crashing through the streets,” reported the Telegraph.

“Wind speeds in the city came close to 200 miles per hour. One resident described Haiyan’s impact as being ‘like a tornado that lasted for four hours’. Local police chief Elmer Soria said the death toll in the city of 220,000 people is at least 10,000.”

Dr Norman Cheung, an expert in environmental hazards and disaster management at London’s Kingston University, said that the death toll would “almost certainly” rise.

“Super Typhoon Haiyan is likely to be the most costly cyclone hazard ever experienced by the Philippines – both in terms of the devastation it has caused to parts of the country and the loss of human life. The total damage will probably exceed 10 billion US dollars,” Dr Cheung said.

“The death toll, currently being reported to be 1200, will almost certainly rise when the actual losses become clearer in the coming days.”

He said poor building materials were a major factor in the catastrophe.

“Despite advanced satellite surveillance, accurate weather forecasts and the mass evacuation undertaken, the Philippines is still extremely vulnerable to typhoon hazards no matter how familiar the country is with them or how well prepared it is,” he said.

“The major reasons for catastrophic losses are due to poor building materials and quality. Weak connections between roofs and walls expose the buildings to consistent extreme wind force. The marked change of internal and external pressure made them collapse completely.”

It has been widely recognised that increases in global temperatures almost certainly drive changes in extreme weather events. And while individual storms like Haiyan cannot be directly attributed to these changes, simple physics can tell us that the increased energy being stored in our oceans will lead to increases in severity and frequency of such storms.