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Wow, that's an insane death toll. To put this in perspective, last year, another super typhoon, Pablo, killed close to 2000 I believe. The year before that another devastating typhoon, Sendong, killed something like 1200. The Philippines regularly gets hit with 20 typhoons each year and the typhoon season isn't over. Each of the above mentioned typhoons hit in December. This has to be among the deadliest in Philippines history and the season isn't even over yet.

I'm located in the southern end of Negros Oriental, which was under warning signal 3 (out of 4) but we were on the edge of the storm. We got off very light. If it weren't for the news, we wouldn't have even thought that we might be affected by a typhoon.

Unfortunately, the Philippines isn't like Japan, where the country can mobilize the resources to make the country highly resistant to it's own nemesis of nature, earthquakes. Many of the people here live in bamboo / wooden structures which stand no chance against a strong typhoon. The most vulnerable are also the poorest. In Dumaguete, minimum wage is the equivalent of $6 per day, but that's a well paying job. Most businesses here use loopholes to pay employees half the minimum wage. The people who have lost their entire towns in the Philippines have no resources, nothing to eat and nowhere to go. There is no no longer a functioning economy. All they can do is wait for help.

I don't know if this has anything to do with global warning, but in the five years I have lived here, our area has been hit with two devastating typhoons in the past three years. Before that, strong typhoons hitting our area were rare. Though we dodged this bullet, the above mentioned typhoons hit us head on. If this is something that the Philippines can regularly expect due to changes in weather, then large portions of the country could become unlivable without huge changes.

This is the sort of area where we could really use some innovation. Typhoons bring a double threat of high winds and floods. Add volcanoes and earthquakes (just a few weeks ago we got hit with a 7.2 earthquake) and the Philippines is among the most dangerous places to live on the planet. We need low cost structures which can shield people from high winds, floods and earthquakes. Sure, we can hide in a shelter, but we can't deal with the possibility of losing our house and possessions every year.

Edit: Changed tornado to typhoon.Facepalm

Edit2: Recovery also can take a long time in the Philippines. Not far from where I live is an area with temporary structures (basically a squatter area) which was setup to be temporary. A year later and this area is still full. I suppose Katrina was similar with the temporary housing situation, but in this case we are talking a flimsy bamboo / wooden structure with plastic tarps on the sides. These structures could easily get wiped out by one of the 20 yearly typhoons which hit the Philippines every year.

Also, the people of New Orleans at least have government safety nets. The mayor of our city, Dumaguete, set aside something like $9,000 as an emergency fund in anticipation of Yolanda. Like I said, not a lot of resources here.

> Many of the people here live in bamboo / wooden structures which stand no chance against a strong typhoon.

Compounding that, these strong storms are extremely hard to defend against. When I heard that Hayian was a strong Class 5 hurricane equivalent, it sent a chill down my spine. Perspective: I recall a homeowner returning to a non-waterfront home after one of the "big" Class 4's that hit southern Florida. His house was nominally still standing. The roof was gone, nothing was left inside except stick-sized debris. The non-support walls, framing, even the plumbing had all been destroyed. The paint had been scoured off of the cinderblock exterior support walls.

It's difficult to get one's head around the power and destructive capability of these storms.

In the US territory of Guam, essentially all structures made out of concrete.

Cinder blocks - yes, I believe that is mostly what they do there.

It is possible to adapt to typhoons. It does require resources.


I rode out Paka in '97 and I can appreciate the concrete structures. After the storm was over it looked like a war zone outside. Power was out for nearly 2 months.

I find it difficult to live in a wooden structure Stateside whenever storms arise. Ignorance is bliss.


I currently live in Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte.

The typhoon past us with about a distance of 190km from the eye and was anticipated to hit us first. We were issued with a signal 4 warning at Category 5 as it passed the northern parts around 2-3am. Yolanda didn't really make an real impact on the island - We only lost communications and electricity from about 9pm to 6pm the next day, had some minor roads flooded and little damage on property.

My best guess is that we got the backspin of the storm and was left with out great damage.

Before the storm past, tourists were leaving, locals were deciding to either stay or evacuate to higher grounds inland and expats tried to follow. There was problems leaving the island by boat because of the big waves and airplanes had already aborted landing on Monday. The risk was that either being hit by mudslides because of the expected 100mm rainfall, or being trapped inside of your house due the strong winds and storm surge.

Everyone seemed well informed and took appropriate action well before Yolanda would possibly hit us. We stocked up on water and food enough for a couple of days on Wednesday, on Thursday the concrete house i'm staying at got packed with people trying to get safe/shelter.

At night, Yolanda made its presence with wind and heavy rain, but thanks to low tide, we where lucky to stay un-flooded by the additional (reported) 5.5m sea-level rise.

A few hours later, it hit Tacloban/Samar (200km from us) and destroyed a lot in its path. The towns/islands where effected so hard because of high tide, which enabled the flooding.

I want to make clear that, the Government/Community/WeatherStations did a great job informing the residencies about the possible dangers.

A lot of people did evacuate, but as I said before, there was only choices between uncertainty available. I will mention that the locals here seem to have become accustom to the weather due to the ~20 typhoons/storms per year, and also seem to take it a bit lighter then they sometimes should. The weather can shift and the typhoons direction can change in an instant, hitting the least expected areas.

Im just hoping that the incoming storm wont make to difficult for the Philippines to recover! We are already preparing and are discussing possible options/evacuation plans.

My thoughts goes to those who have lost or are missing family and friends. Best regards

It seems like there are two separate things needed -- overall increase in wealth creation, and better survivability of structures (or at least shelters) at the current price points (or maybe in the price points somewhat above the current point.)

(I was looking at being in Cebu or Leyte for diving last week, but my ear was slightly sore so I went to Bangkok first instead. Pretty happy about that.)

The other thing that is needed is a revolt against the totally heinous levels of political corruption in the Philippines. Which will probably be a lot harder to do than better engineering.

Yes, yes! I am so glad somebody mentioned this. The political system in the Philippines is so rotten that it gets in the way of any intelligent, scientific solution ever proposed to every problem the country has. I personally think that that is the root problem here. I have no idea how to solve that, though.

Having lived in the Philippines and the U.S. I have this observation. The U.S. is not more or less corrupt that the Philippines. They just do it with more _style_. By that I mean, they are just better at hiding it.

I've also lived in both, and that's nonsense.

Rather than compare anecdotes though, look at some actual data: http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2012/results/

(USA is ranked 17; Philippines is 105. Lower is better.)

So do you mean to say that the Philippines should be in a condition just as good as the US? There are many variables unique to the political situation in the Philippines that US politics doesn't have, I'm not making excuses, but I also don't get your point.

Off topic but apparently your site's cert has expired: https://www.cryptoseal.com/

> It seems like there are two separate things needed -- overall increase in wealth creation, and better survivability of structures (or at least shelters)

I've always had this theory that one at least partial explanation for the differing economic states of different cultures is ability to properly assess risks and prepare for them accordingly. If every <x> years a typhoon is going to come along and wipe out <y>% of your infrastructure putting the affected regions of the country back to square one yet again, coming up with a workable solution to that should be a super high priority. If your work is constantly going into relatively persistent projects and you can minimize setbacks, standard of living constantly increases over time and generations.

Cindercrete blocks are the first thing that come to my mind, but maybe that's too expensive? Could some sort of reinforcement mechanism (perhaps anchored to the ground, providing strength but still allowing movement/flexibility) for bamboo huts be designed that uses affordable cabling such that they could withstand the force without disintegrating?

Personally, I'd be more likely to donate money if there was a specific engineering cause like this that I knew it was going to, rather than just general relief to recreate the same environment that will simply be wiped out again next time. Wrong way to think perhaps, but so be it. Charity success is partially a marketing problem, and this is a way to approach it that I think would have some success. If you could sponsor a specific family (as you can with children in Africa) for some housing upgrades, and get some photos in return, I think a lot of people over here with excess money might share a bit of it.

Yes, obviously I don't know all the parameters involved, and it's easy for me as a rich white male on the other side of the world to armchair quarterback, but I simply don't believe that everything that can be done is being done - over here we have our own solvable problems that we will never solve, for different reasons, so I don't think it's racist to believe that just perhaps, people in the Phillipines aren't undertaking the 100% optimal solution to their problems.

EDIT: I read below:

It's worth reiterating that for all the obvious destructive power of sustained wind speeds of almost 200mph, it was the associated storm surge – the rush of water into coastal areas – which caused the worst damage in Tacloban, and most likely many of the deaths. The storm surge in Tacloban was estimated at 6m, sweeping away even concrete buildings, and bringing the sort of devastation so reminiscent of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Storm surges washing away even concrete structures.....now that's depressing. So now what? Can we affordably elevate everyone's shelter? But 6 metres? Not a chance. If 6m stomr surges are somewhat common, I just don't know how that are can be considered habitable. I have no idea if there is somewhere else those people could be relocated to. Oh man it's a tough problem.

If every <x> years a typhoon is going to come along and wipe out <y>% of your infrastructure putting the affected regions of the country back to square one yet again, coming up with a workable solution to that should be a super high priority.

This is correct. Yet Miami is hit by a hurricane every seven years on average, and they don't manage to move the power lines underground, instead preferring to hang the wire above ground again every time it's blown down, and charging the population for the privilege of having electric power. They also rebuilt New Orleans in areas where they shouldn't, and still cannot put proper sea defenses in where they ought to.

But when Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, was hit in 1970 by the great 1970 cyclone, the incident that triggered Independence, they managed to put in concrete storm shelters. These things helped to save many lives in the subsequent years.

Guys, anyone at home? Civil defense is a political problem, it seems.

I'd have to look at the cost comparison of overhead vs underground power lines, keeping in mind the presumably extreme levels of standards one would have to meet, but I would not be surprised at all if the decision was 100% based on right out in the open corruption. This is one of the problems we have over here that holds us back, and it is getting increasingly worse imho.

Another problem for poor nations is the initial capital cost complicating the decision of building cheap and fragile vs expensive and resilient. Sometimes they simply don't have the money. Sometimes they do but the genuine uncertainty of another typhoon of this magnitude makes it too difficult to make the commitment. Other times they're perhaps not even thinking in this way at all.

My understanding was that since Florida is essentially at sea level the water table was high enough that it would not be safe or practical to put electrical wires underground. Could be wrong though.

In Weston, FL, which was developed in the 1990 and really took off during the recent bubble the greater part of residential power lines are underground, and consequently they had little trouble after Wilma and Katrina. They are on the western edge of Miami-Palm Beach metro area, where the water table would be higher because of proximity to the Everglades.

I don't think this is an engineering problem. This is a political issue - it would be too difficult to find the money for the conversion, even more so, since in the US taxes are locally raised and spent. Try finding sufficient funds to get the work done in, say, Opa-Locka, or try to raise funds in Palmetto Bay to pay for Homestead.

"Florida is essentially at sea level"

Sea level goes up in a hurricane, way up. And the only thing worse than freshwater flood for underground wires is saltwater. And if the ground mounted transformers are flooded and destroyed you're losing power. And once power is cut, the power co can't just flip a switch without burning down the whole city, because flood damage means 0.1% of houses will catch fire and the fire dept is already busy with their own issues not to mention trees in the road and such.

Also it may well be that above ground lines and the higher damage/maintenance costs are still cheaper than acquiring easements and all the other costs of installing underground utility infrastructure.

Is it possible to reliably bury power lines in Florida? The ground is one big sea-level swamp.

Fortunately we missed it here in Manila also, this is very devastating for the country and it is going to be that way for some time. People without housing, food, water, and daily requirements.

You are from Manila? :D You remind of one of my favorite novels hehe, Cryptonomicon[1] a good part of the story takes place in Manila.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptonomicon

I was in a conference in Singapore recently and found myself chatting to some guys from Manila. When I - of course - asked them if they'd read Cryptonomicon, they all but rolled their eyes! Apparently they got asked that all the time. They hadn't read the book - the language is a bit dense, I admit - but were under the impression it was massively popular amongst hackers of a certain variety, which I suppose it is.

It's a fantastic book. I probably re-reread it once a year.

I'm from Manila, now working in Singapore. I've read Cryptonomicon two times already and enjoyed it immensely.

20 typhoons a year is a lot of typhoons! How did this land (through the course of history) ever become habitable? Or have the typhoons been increasing in frequency in the recent past?

Typhoons are usually not that bad, it just means a lot more rain in an already very rainy country. Traditionally it was dealt with stilt houses and so on. Today you would just deal with it by having houses elevated about 6m and your first floor being able to withstand flooding for the worse possible typhoons, which means a stone floor and a concrete house.

I'm also in Dumaguete. gavhug at gmail com.

Gavin? I have been in contact with you already. I didn't know you were still around though. Are you still doing the Ruby meetups?

Edit: Yep, that's you. I have you in my contacts list. I will send you another email. ;)

Edit Edit: And yes, for those of you reading this comment, this is an indication of how small the tech world here is, even in a decent sized city in the Philippines.

I like Dumaguete City, have been there several times. I remember crusing down Rizal Boulevard with my girl, stopping to pick up some "silvanas" from Sans Rival. Really refreshing when it gets hot. Then hopping on the ferry to Bohol. Those were the days...


To put things into context. 1.3 million people die and 50 million people are injured in car accidents every year.

Nature disasters are just side show in human life at this point.

That doesn't put things in any useful context. Each car wreck is an isolated incident. Societies are relatively well-equipped to deal with these incidents: first responders come out, injured are taken to hospital, the dead go to the morgue, where they are buried in a routine fashion. The next of kin are affected, but their lives proceed in a society which has retained its usual level of function, with employment continuing, transportation networks operating, and food supply lines functioning normally. This is all true even for the most massively awful freeway pileups that occur in dense fog.

In a disaster of this nature, supply lines are wiped out. Hospitals are gone. First responders, to the extent there are any, are overwhelmed. It's hard to get food. Sanitary systems, to the extent they existed in the first place, are gone. Communication systems are gone. This is all going to have incredible impact, even in a less-developed country. The disaster affects entire communities for several years at least. No car wreck has this sort of impact.

Side show?

Sure, death happens in large numbers every day. Why mourn these 10,000 deaths any more than any other deaths from around the world? We probably shouldn't. Because death is natural and unavoidable, it isn't necessarily tragic by itself.

Your community, your system, is able to absorb the deaths which happen within that community. People in your community die from old age, traffic accidents, disease and many other ways, but the wheels of the system keep spinning. In the case of the Philippines, the recent tsunamis and other large scale natural disasters, entire communities were obliterated. These systems have completely broken down. In Leyte, 10,000 people died, but the system which supported tens of thousands more living is broken.

The local economy for many of these people has been pushed back to the stone ages. The rich still have their bank accounts intact. They can jump on a plane and start over somewhere else. The poor don't have this option. There is no functioning system there to support the people who have to stay there. They have nothing to eat, no money for medicine, nowhere to live and they are completely dependent on a government with relatively little resources. Restoring this system will take months if not years. Many people will never fully recover. Future generations will get held back from what they could have been. There's not much of a safety net here.

ETA: And sure, the ripples of this shock won't go much further than the borders of the Philippines. But I think Fukishima might be a good counter to your "natural disasters as a side show" argument. We don't yet know how much this disaster will affect us. It could do serious long term damage to the ecosystem of the Pacific ocean. Could the world see mass cancer from eating fish in the Pacific ocean?

This does not put things into context at all. You do realize that this is a single event, localized in a single region of the world, right?

This is equivalent the population to small neighborhood all dying at once. In addition to destruction caused.

Regardless of the cause, large amounts of loss of human life in a single event are still considered significant. The reverberating effects throughout the neighboring communities are perhaps most noticeable. You are removing an entire node from a graph, rather than individual leaves.

That's not a very helpful context. Lots of people die every year from relatively low-risk activities they choose to participate in, and those deaths don't typically involve the destruction of the entire community support structure in the process.

In other words, the deaths in the Philippines are bad enough, but there are millions of people still alive and put into great distress as we speak. And it's not as if it's their fault (which was the argument brought up for Katrina as well...), it's not as if they can be safe if they move to Japan (as if there were either the funding or political will for that).

This comparison is outrageous. Speaking of things out of context, fewer than three thousand people died in 9/11[0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_September_11...

Exactly wrong. The response to the acts of war on 9/11 are disingenuous, and not commensurate with the impact. The costs we as citizens pay for a false sense of security are orders of magnitude more than the risk presented. It is sad these people in the Phillipines died. We should help the survivors and we should help the survivors be able to withstand future problems by building better safer infrastructure and other methods. But, this is a normal event in human culture, the comparison is not outrageous, it is simply scientifically accurate. The author's choice of the word sideshow is callous, but objectively somewhat accurate. To those involved or effected by this - it's anything but a sideshow, which is where relative perspective comes in. We should have sympathy and help - but help in all ways.

Well, that's the whole point - if some USA politician really wanted to protect Americans, then it would be appropriate to direct more effort towards traffic and obesity, and ignore 9/11.

The same is in this situation - while help is needed in restoring the communities and sheltering survivors; in the long run anyway those "common killers" should be a priority for the same Philippines communitities, not overly focusing on typhoon-safety.

And the 10 000 dead isn't the number that should be emphasised above others - the main pain in this disaster is the millions of wounded and displaced; I wouldn't be surprised if the death toll of these displacement consequences (malnutrition, disease, etc) is larger than from the initial impact.

It sounds like their entire community and economy is devastated.

If disaster taps on your neighborhood window, I suspect you would sing a different tune.

Precisely my point. This is localized catastrophe. For us, it has less effect than car accident happening to our neighbor.

Because the people who died were poor, this accident adds net positive emotional entertainment value to the life of typical consumer.

What's your favorite Ayn Rand novel?

The Fountainhead

Another point I made in my first comment is that in my area, typhoons were rare. Even though we get hit with around 20 per year, my area typically dodges all of them. Yet, in the past two years we have had two devastating typhoons. One was the equivalent of a cat 5 hurricane and the other was just as deadly with less winds but more flooding. Yolanda is was the most powerful storm in recorded history, which is obviously a rarity. If this all points to a trend, perhaps due to something like global warming, then we will all be affected. Perhaps this is just a preview of more to come in a far less comfortable world for everyone. Natural disasters and environmental problems may be moving from side show to center stage. The positive entertainment might take a turn to horror show.

'Adds net positive emotional entertainment value' ???

Seriously, WFT?

You think the news networks are not rubbing their hands about this? They LOVE a good disaster especially if it happens in an impoverished area.

> Because the people who died were poor, this accident adds net positive emotional entertainment value to the life of typical consumer.

Not to be cynical, but I imagine if they were rich celebrities it'd add even more dubious 'entertainment' value.

That doesn't make this any less significant. Besides, something in the neighborhood of 9.5m were affected by this typhoon and the season isn't even over.

If 10000 people died in a single highway pileup, everyone would assume there was a problem.

Depends on geographic concentration and many other things though.

> To completely remove all context […]

Fixed that for you.

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