This satellite image provided by the U.S. Naval Research Lab shows Typhoon Haiyan as it tracked toward the Philippines on 7 November 2013. Photo: US Naval Research Lab / Associated Press

By Te-Ping Chen, James T. Areddy, and James Hookway
24 November 2013

TACLOBAN, Philippines (The Wall Street Journal) – Framed by mountains and facing the deep sapphire waters of the Pacific Ocean, Tacloban was a city on the rise. The bustling provincial capital had a busy port and seaside cathedrals, and is just a few minutes up the road from the site where U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed to re-take the Philippines from Japanese forces in World War II. On weekends, farmers and residents of poorer towns for miles around would flock to the city to take in the latest movies or hit the malls.

In the first week of November, the city of more than 220,000 sat directly in the line of one of the most ferocious tropical storms ever to make landfall. City and national officials had days of warning and rushed to prepare. By week's end, the officials believed they had the situation in hand.

But many of their efforts, it turned out, were woefully inadequate. Some officials miscalculated the biggest threat that Typhoon Haiyan posed to the city and its surroundings. They used a term for the storm that wasn't widely understood. They grossly underestimated the havoc the storm would wreak, stocking far too few supplies for a city to survive on in an emergency. And they failed, despite vigorous efforts, to move many of the most vulnerable people out of harm's way. For almost 24 hours, local and national officials in Tacloban had no way even to call for help. They had simply failed to imagine a storm so large.

That failure of imagination, combined with residents' skepticism that the storm would be worse than any of the other 20 or so that lash the scattered archipelago every year, had a deadly and devastating impact.

In the run-up to the storm, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, who had built his popularity in part on his government's record of effective management, called on officials to ensure a "zero-casualty" event. As of this weekend, the death toll from Typhoon Haiyan reached 5,235 with a further 1,613 missing. Most of the dead were in Tacloban and the areas around it. […]

Forecasters also spied a rarity: the risk of a storm surge as high as seven meters, or about 23 feet. Typhoons always bring high winds but rarely mountainous waves.

What it all added up to was the likelihood that Typhoon Haiyan might have the same impact as a massive tsunami. [more]

Typhoon Haiyan: How a Catastrophe Unfolded



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