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Typhoon Haiyan leaves deep wounds

Sakeena Suliman – Cii News | 12 November 2013

Homeless and helpless, survivors of one of the worst typhoons to hit the Philippines wait desperately for aid amid reports of another storm set to make its way to the region.

One of the worst recorded storms, the death toll is anticipated to reach 10 000, the highest number of fatalities compared to previous deadly storms in the region. Even though authorities had evacuated about 800 000 people ahead of the typhoon, the death toll was predicted to be high because many evacuation centres — brick-and-mortar schools, churches and government buildings — could not withstand the winds and water surges.

An accurate tally of the number of fatalities has not yet been recorded by the central government.

Search and rescue relief efforts have been slowed down not only by blocked and damaged roads and airports but are also being hampered by widespread looting. Access to the areas that have borne the brunt of the storm is also a challenge, with many going hungry, struggling to find food and medical help.

A further threatening to relief efforts is a new storm approaching the southern and central Philippines. Government weather forecasters said the tropical depression could bring fresh floods to already affected areas. The depression was expected to hit land on the southern island of Mindanao late Tuesday. Moderate to heavy rains are expected.

Outside relief agencies are also finding it difficult to fully take off because major centres of communication in the Philippines are inaccessible and have been cut off.

Schools, homes, everything, has been flattened by this massive storm surge, which some mistook for a tsunami. The scene in Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province, one of the areas worst hit, is of utter destruction.

President Benigno Aquino III is considering declaring a state of emergency or martial law in Tacloban. This would see curfews, price and food supply controls, military or police checkpoints and increased security patrols being put in place.

Authorities say at least two million people in 41 provinces have been affected by Friday’s disaster and large areas in parts of the coast have been transformed into twisted piles of debris, with decomposing bodies trapped underneath.

Typhoon Yolanda, the storm’s English name, hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Friday, November 8 and made landfall three days later in Northern Vietnam after crossing the South China Sea.

Once it struck, it quickly battered through the central islands packing winds of 235 kilometres per hour that gusted to 275 kilometres per hour, and a storm surge – a wall of water that overwhelms coastal areas – from three meters and up to ten metres high in some places.

It has been downgraded to a tropical storm as torrential rains are forecast over the coming 24 hours across southern China. Officials have advised fishermen to stay onshore.

In South Africa the Gift of the Givers has released R2 million to purchase essentials and other supplies. The humanitarian organisation will also consider deploying a rescue, paramedic and medical team if necessary and has launched a nationwide campaign to obtain further emergency assistance. To make contributions, information can be found on their website.

Birth of a tropical storm

Being an archipelago nation of more than 7 000 islands the Philippines is annually battered by tropical storms and typhoons. According to meteorologists the nation, which is in the northwestern Pacific, places it right in the path of the world’s number one typhoon generator. The archipelago’s exposed eastern seaboard therefore often bears most of the impact.

Known as hurricanes and cyclones in different parts of the world, all are powerful storms that can cause catastrophic damage. The dangers come from a number of directions. Heavy rains and storm surges can bring floods and winds, ranging from 120 to more than 250 kilometers per hour, can flatten buildings and devastate entire cities.

To create a tropical storm there needs to be a deep ocean of at least 50 meters of warm water, with temperatures from 28 degrees and upwards. While the upper atmosphere must be fairly calm, an existing weather disturbance, or low-pressure area, is also required.

As the warm ocean waters provide the rising air with moisture and heat, oceanic surface winds spiral into the low pressure area. The moisture then condenses into drops, releasing more energy and powering the circular winds.

If the conditions continue to be right bands of thunderstorms form, with the cloud tops rising further and further into the atmosphere. The storms can stay intact and strengthen if winds at the top stay light.

The storm can then become a tropical depression, an organized system of thunderstorms with an overall circular motion and maximum sustained winds of less than 62 kilometers per hour. When a depression becomes severe enough and the winds pick up, it is regarded a tropical storm and at this point the storm is given a name.

When winds reach 119 kilometers per hour, the tropical storm is upgraded to hurricane, typhoon or cyclone status.

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