Experts: Man, nature share typhoon tragedy blame
By SETH BORENSTEIN
- Nov. 11, 2013
WASHINGTON (AP) – Nature and man together cooked up the disaster in the Philippines.
Geography, meteorology, poverty, shoddy construction, a booming population, and, to a much lesser degree, climate change combine to make the Philippines the nation most vulnerable to killer typhoons, according to several scientific studies.
And Typhoon Haiyan was one mighty storm.
Haiyan slammed the island nation with a storm surge two stories high and some of the highest winds ever measured in a tropical cyclone – 195 mph as clocked by U.S. satellites, or 147 mph based on local reports. An untold number of homes were blown away, and thousands of people are feared dead.
“You have a very intense event hitting a very susceptible part of the world. It’s that combination of nature and man,” said MIT tropical meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel. “If one of those ingredients were missing, you wouldn’t have a disaster.”
The 7,000 islands of the Philippines sit in the middle of the world’s most storm-prone region, which gets some of the biggest typhoons because of vast expanses of warm water that act as fuel and few pieces of land to slow storms down.
Half the storms on an informal list of the strongest ones to hit land in the 20th and 21st centuries ended up striking the Philippines, according to research by Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the Weather Underground.
Storms often hit after they’ve peaked in strength or before they get a chance to, but Haiyan struck when it was at its most powerful, based on U.S. satellite observations, Emanuel said.
Humans played a big role in this disaster, too – probably bigger than nature’s, meteorologists said. University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy figures that 75 to 80 percent of the devastation can be blamed on the human factor.
Meteorologists point to extreme poverty and huge growth in population – much of it in vulnerable coastal areas with poor construction, including storm shelters that didn’t hold up against Haiyan.
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