As appalling as it was, it turns out the Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) was perhaps not as unique as we were led to believe. True, in modern times – with the exception of the 1991 Ormoc Flood caused by Tropical Storm Uring – the areas devastated by the typhoon have largely escaped the full force of the Philippines’ annual typhoons. And Typhoon Yolanda was exceptionally powerful, perhaps the most powerful storm to make landfall since records of such things were first kept. But Typhoon Yolanda was not a first for the Leyte-Samar area.
On October 12, 1897, a storm of similar ferocity arrived in Leyte, “striking Tacloban, the capital, with terrific force,” according to a newspaper article in the Barrier Miner newspaper of Broken Hill, New South Wales, which didn’t receive the news until January, 1898:
Some of the descriptions of the aftermath – 7,000 were reportedly killed in the storm and its accompanying “tidal wave” – are eerily similar to the scenes being played out on television for a worldwide audience over the past week:
“At Gamoa, the sea swept inland for a mile, destroying property worth seven million dollars, and many natives lost their lives. The Government prison at Tacloban was wrecked, and of the 200 rebels therein half succeeded in making their escape. The town of Hermin was swept away by flood and its 5000 inhabitants are missing. The small station of Weera, near Loog, is also gone, while in Loog itself only three houses are left standing. Thousands of natives are roaming about the devastated province seeking food and medical attendance. In many cases the corpses were mutilated as though they had fallen in battle, and the expressions of their faces were most agonising.”
Only 15 years later it would happen again, this time killing or injuring 15,000 people, as The Oswego Palladium (Oswego, New York), reported on November 29, 1912:
“TACLOBAN IS DESTROYED – While the dispatch from the Governor-General of the Philippines gives us figures of the dead and wounded, it states that probably half the population of Tacloban and Capiz have been lost….The Red Cross is preparing to rush a relief [illegible] to the stricken district, and has been asked for details.”
(As a point of attribution, I am uncertain what the source of the photo and report is, having discovered it only after it passed through many hands in the social media earlier today.)
There are two takeaways from these little glimpses of history, one rather grim in its implications for the current calamity, and one considerably less serious. First, they suggest that we might well prepare ourselves for very bad news concerning the human toll of Typhoon Yolanda; with two storms 15 years apart causing well in excess of 20,000 casualties at a time when the region was far more sparsely-populated than it is today, the early “emotional” estimate of 10,000 dead from last week’s storm suddenly does not seem so farfetched.
On a more positive note, the historical record tends to deflate what has been an expanding bubble of History Channel-esque nerd fever brought on by a couple videos and articles appearing online just after Typhoon Yolanda struck, which claimed the storm had been intentionally created by some sort of weather control device. Now in addition to finding explanations for how an atmospheric research facility that has been shut down since May and a nearly 40-year-old missile defense radar installation that points in a fixed direction towards Siberia could have been used to cause Typhoon Yolanda, those who don the tinfoil hat and keep their eyes to the skies to watch for chemtrails have the added challenge of figuring out how those infernal machines caused weather disasters in the past.
Of course, these are people who have enough time on their hands to make this assclown…
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