When Mother Nature shows no mercy

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Typhoon Haiyan. A name now synonymous in history books with the Great Bhola Cyclone, Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. The Category 5 storm set the world record for the most powerful typhoon or hurricane ever to make landfall with wind speeds of 195 mph, and was more than 300 miles wide. This super typhoon, as many are calling it, slammed into the Philippines early Friday morning leaving a path of death and destruction that the country hadn’t seen since the Great Tsunami of 2004, which killed approximately 150,000 people in 11 countries.

2004 Tsunami aftermath

Aftermath of the Great Tsunami of 2004 that ravaged 11 countries.

Even though President Benigno Aquino III and the Philippines government prepared for the super typhoon by moving 800,000 citizens out of the storm’s path to evacuation centers, the death toll is still estimated to climb to 10,000 people. Why were so many lives lost? Unfortunately, there are many reasons why the Philippines will take not just weeks to recover, but months and possibly years.

The Philippines is considered a developing country even though it’s ranked 40th in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). The country suffers from an unbelievably high poverty and unemployment rate, which could potentially get worse as recovery efforts continue to reveal more losses for their already struggling economy.

During the storm, buildings, homes and businesses were flattened. While many factors produced this effect, in most developing countries building codes are either not enforced or nonexistent. Storms like Haiyan, with winds of nearly 200 mph, can demolish structures of all shapes and sizes if they are not reinforced.

Storm surge can have even more damaging effects than wind. Super Typhoon Haiyan had storm surges as high as 20 feet in some areas, which many officials in the country had not anticipated. According to the Washington Post, citizens of Tacloban, the hardest hit community, said that they were ready for the wind, but not the water.

FEMA recovery signage

Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, FEMA and other government-run agencies banded together to support citizens and the recovery efforts.

Could a storm as powerful as Super Typhoon Haiyan cause the same amount of damage if it landed on U.S. soil? We hope not. Developed countries, like the United States, are more likely to bounce back following a mega storm similar to Haiyan, but that doesn’t mean businesses and citizens alike are free from preparing for even the smallest of tropical storms.

Today, the U.S. is prepared to handle both preparation for and recovery from a major storm. Better forecasting is available, which provides people with more time to evacuate. Founded in 1979, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) exists to aid with recovery efforts, while it and other government agencies offers extensive emergency preparedness education to businesses and citizens. Building codes across the country are also designed to withstand very high winds and flooding, depending on the weather history of the region in question. We may not be 100 percent prepared 100 percent of the time, but through our country’s diligence, we may be able to save more lives.

If you would like to help with the recovery efforts in the Philippines, the American Red Cross is accepting donations online.

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