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Looking Back: PH Typhoons of the Past

by Ivan Anthony A. Adaro | January 16, 2022

An archipelago, home to over a hundred million Filipinos, dots the blue Pacific Ocean. Known for its unrivaled flora and fauna,  the Philippines is called the “Pearl of the Orient Sea”. However, with its location on the west of the Pacific Ocean, it is also a frequent victim of strong typhoons. 

An average of 20 typhoons strike the Philippines annually mainly due to its location in the western part of the Pacific Ocean, where its vast waters provide the strength for a typhoon to develop. The country has experienced numerous devastating storms that have claimed numerous lives and caused billions worth of damages to properties. 

But the country is no stranger to such events. In fact, the Philippines has been through worse over the years. History chronicles some of the typhoons that had struck the islands and made significant damages to both lives and property.

PH Typhoons During the Colonial Times

 Miguel Selga, a Spanish Jesuit priest, constructed a chronology of typhoons that occurred in the Philippine Islands from  1566 to 1900. The Jesuits had settled in the Philippines during the late 16th century and worked as missionaries driven by their interest in the country’s natural history and intense tropical typhoons, making them the pioneer meteorologists in the Philippines and their vicinity.

In Selga’s chronological archives of Philippine typhoons and storms, a total of 652 events were recorded, 533 of them being reported as typhoons while the rest were considered as tropical storms.  The deadliest typhoon ever recorded in his works was super typhoon Angela that struck northern Luzon and Manila last September of 1867, taking away the lives of more than 1,800 people. 

Reports about the said typhoon stated, “From the 20th to the 26th of September, Manila experienced a violent storm which caused the inundation of all the city suburbs. The Malacañang Palace, the residence of General Gandara, became isolated and the officials had to make use of boats to reach the place, all adjacent barrios (city districts) being surrounded temporarily by a lake. On the 25th of September, a frightful inundation occurred in Ilocos, owing to the extraordinary flooding of the Abra River. The water reached a height of 25 meters above the ordinary level, killing 1800 persons and causing incalculable damages to property in Ilocos and in Abra.”

The second deadliest typhoon in Selga’s records was an unnamed typhoon that occurred last October 7, 1897, taking its toll and highest peak in Leyte. It was also referred to as the predecessor of super typhoon Haiyan because of their similarities in both location and destruction. The typhoon was noted for its strong winds and heavy rains that sent tremendous, deadly waves in the provinces of Samar and Leyte, destroying its towns and claiming about 1,500 lives. As stated in the reports, numerous boats within the archipelago were wrecked and the majority of the victims killed had their lives taken away by the extreme waves that wiped out the northern coasts of Leyte and southern coasts of Samar.

On October 10, 1617, the third deadliest typhoon archived in Selga’s chronological works struck Visayas. It was reported that six ships were wrecked in the seas of Marinduque, causing the deaths of over a thousand passengers aboard the ships. The typhoon was also characterized as the greatest calamity during the administration of Jeronimo de Silva, a Spanish diplomat and the interim governor of the Philippines during that period.

Up to the 18th century, the Jesuit movements and roles as missionaries remained active despite the suppressions they faced in the earlier years of their operations. In fact, in the year 1865, they built and established the Manila observatory and by the 19th century, they had developed a fully functioning network of 72 secondary meteorological stations which continuously grew until World War II, the time when the Manila observatory was destroyed.

Modern History

Fast forward to the 20th century, the Philippines remained one of the most typhoon-prone areas in the world. While drainage systems, stronger infrastructures, and better coping mechanisms have been developed by the Philippine government over the long history of experiences with disasters, significant gaps in the country’s disaster management capacities remain to be rampant. Such gaps include the country’s laid-back infrastructures, slow recovery speeds, primitive technologies, government incompetencies, and poor disaster response. All of which are blamed and masked on the country’s location along the Pacific belt of disasters.

In the year 2013, the Philippines was ranked fourth in the list of countries with the greatest number of reported disasters worldwide. In the same report, the Philippines was ranked second in the greatest number of affected people, estimating up to 26.67 million lives. On top of that, an estimated 4.57% of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was lost due to the disasters of the same year. If that is not alarming enough, the Philippines was consistently part of the top five countries that are mostly hit by natural disasters in the years 2003 to 2013. Later in 2014, the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters discovered that out of all the geological events that struck the Philippines every year, typhoons were the most frequent and destructive of all.

One of the most destructive typhoons during those years was Typhoon Pablo, an intense storm that hit Mindanao last December 3, 2012 with heavy rains and wind speeds of up to 280 kilometers per hour (kph), triggering landslides all over Mindanao and causing electricity disruptions. The typhoon killed 1,901 people and caused $1.04 billion worth of damages. Another catastrophic event that had proven to be the most devastating typhoon of all during those years was Super Typhoon Yolanda. With wind speeds ranging from 230 kph to 315 kph, Yolanda caused widespread destruction all over the Philippines, resulting in $4.55 billion worth of infrastructure and property damages, 6,300 deaths, and 1,061 people missing.

Just recently, less than two weeks before Christmas day, several islands in Visayas and Mindanao were hit by Super Typhoon Odette (internationally named “Rai”) amid the Christmas festivities and holidays the country and people were looking forward to. With its strong winds and torrential rains, the storm slammed and wiped out many lives, properties, and provinces in the Philippines.

Key Takeaways

Rising air temperatures, global warming, and climate change are the major contributors that stir the development of devastating typhoons. What makes it even worse is that the majority of those events are driven by human actions. Yet, the belief that someone else will save the planet still plagues the minds of people to do nothing or be passive about it.  

Nature will always continue to do its bidding despite the cries and rubble that fills the land when calamity strikes. So, if something serious and impactful is not done to cease climate change within the near future, it can be expected that many more of these destructive, fatal typhoons will continue to increase throughout humanity’s lifetime.

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