Super typhoon Lawin (Haima) is now colliding with Luzon Island. Packing wind speeds of up to 220 kilometres an hour (kph), it is likely to be very destructive. Every precaution should be taken to safeguard life and property. There will be a bill from this typhoon; let it be a small one.
Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) – the mother of all tropical cyclones which smashed through the Central Philippines in early November 2013 – hit wind speeds of 350 kph; killed more than 10,000 people, and left an invoice behind for US$2.86 billion. And while Lawin does not have the vital statistics of Yolanda, she still looks extremely deadly.
This is a the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane – one below Hurricane Mathew which in late September-early October killed more than 500 in the Caribbean island of Haiti, left 175,000 homeless and went on a rampage of destruction as a Category 4 through the US states of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina before moving on to North Carolina where it did more than US$1 billion worth of damage.
Taking its name from the Tagalog word for ‘hawk’, like the bird of prey Lawin will swoop swiftly and kill where she can. This is the big ugly sister of Typhoon Karen (Sarika) which only left the Philippines three days ago after dropping 16 inches of rainfall.
Coastal areas are at the highest risk, sustaining the initial brunt of the gale-force winds and a sea surge that could reach 3 metres and cause heavy flooding. In open sea, meanwhile, wave heights could reach 14 metres.
Structures in Lawin’s path – particularly those built from light materials, such as nipa huts and cogon houses – will also suffer severe damage, if not total destruction. This is not a typhoon to be ridden out in poorly constructed premises; it needs to be respected as a major weather system that is capable of leaving a path of destruction right though Northern and parts of Central Luzon with serious rain and flood damage spreading further afield. Anyone living in these areas should seek safety.
Power and communications are likely to be heavily affected. Mud slips also present a danger to property and transport routes. Flying debris – whether dislodged from fixed structures or tree branches – will be a real hazard in winds of this speed. People are therefore urged to stay indoors and away from windows. Unless vital, all travel should be resisted.
Plantations – coconut, banana and mango – are at high risk along with market-gardens and field crops. Trees will be defoliated and uprooted. With between 4 and 8 inches of rainfall expected – and up to 12 inches in localised areas – within the next 36-48 hours, the cost to agriculture could be substantial. Furthermore, this will add to all the rain spilled by Karen as she cut a similar path through Luzon. Widespread flooding, particularly in low-lying areas, is a major concern.
And again, the Philippines beleaguered farmers will be caught in yet another destructive weather system. Yolanda devastated 153,495 hectares of rice paddy, maize, coconut, banana, cassava, mango and vegetables – crop losses in excess of US$110 million. Although that happened three years ago, Philippine agriculture, and particularly the country’s rice farmers, are still reeling from its effects.
The Philippines is struck by an average of 19 tropical cyclones each year with around one third of them making landfall. This makes the archipelago the most exposed of any large country in the world to these systems. According to meteorological records, Northern Luzon and Eastern Visayas are the most frequently impacted regions. The most-devastating typhoon ever to hit the Philippines was Haiphong which left a trail of 20,000 deaths as it tore through the country en route to wreak even greater destruction as it made landfall in Vietnam. The final death toll from this typhoon was 300,000, making it the third-deadliest tropical cyclone ever.
Our thoughts and prayers are with all those in Lawin’s path. Please take care.