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At least 370 dead from Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 5:21 PM GMT on December 05, 2012

The death toll in the Philippines from Typhoon Bopha has risen to at 370, with hundreds more missing. Bopha (called "Pablo" in the Philippines), slammed ashore on the Philippine island of Mindanao at 4:45 am local time on Tuesday morning as a Category 5 storm with 160 mph winds. Bopha is only Category 5 typhoon on record to make landfall on Mindanao, which rarely sees strong typhoons due to its position close to the Equator. Most of the deaths occurred in the gold-rush mountain towns of New Bataan and Monkayo due to typhoon-spawned landslides and flash floods. According to an op-ed published at sunstar.com, much of the death toll can be blamed on the fact that deforestation has reduced forest cover on Mindanao to just 10%, which allows more dangerous flash floods to occur. Passage over land has weakened Bopha to a Category 1 storm today, and the typhoon is now far enough from the Philippines that it no long poses a heavy rain threat. The island of Mindanao is highly vulnerable to flood disasters from tropical cyclones; last year's Tropical Storm Washi, which hit Mindanao on December 16, 2011 with 60 mph winds and torrential rains, killed over 1200 people. Before hitting the Philippines, Typhoon Bopha brought a storm surge estimated at ten feet to the island nation of Palau, where near-total destruction is being reported in some coastal areas.

Figure 1. Super Typhoon Bopha as seen from the International Space Station on December 2, 2012. At the time, Bopha had top sustained winds of 150 - 155 mph. Image credit: NASA.

Figure 2. The devastation brought about by powerful Typhoon Bopha is seen at Montevista township, Compostela Valley in southern Philippines Wednesday Dec. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Extreme damage on Mindanao
Category 5 storms make landfall only once every few years somewhere in the world, and the damage they cause is invariably extreme and dramatic. According to a story at inquirer.net, a 10-hectare plantation of coconut trees in the town of Baganga, Davao Oriental, were all felled. It's takes some pretty extreme winds to bring down coconut trees, which commonly are the only things still standing after passage of a major hurricane or typhoon. Damage surveys from Tropical Cyclone Larry, which made landfall in 2006 in Australia as a Category 4 storm, indicated that coconut trees were able to withstand wind gusts of 135 mph, but toppled when the gusts reached 145 mph (thanks go to Dr. Bruce Buckley of the Reinsurance Group Australia for this info.) Aerial damage surveys from Mindanao (Video 1) show very heavy damage near where the eye came ashore, due to extreme winds and high storm surge.

Video 1. An aerial survey of damage near where the eye of Typhoon Bopha made landfall in Davao Oriental province on Mindanao Island in the Philippines shows widespread severe damage, bordering on catastrophic.

The International Red Cross is accepting donations for typhoon relief in the Philippines.

Jeff Masters


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