CREDIT: AP Photo / David Guttenfelder
Fifteen days after Super Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines, the country’s reported death toll has crossed 5,200.
In the initial wake of the storm’s arrival, officials for the South Pacific island nation estimated the dead could rise as high as 10,000. Philippine President Benigno Aquino III later told CNN that figure was too high, and a more likely number was 2,000 to 2,500. But on Friday Major Reynaldo Balido — a spokesman for the country’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) — told NBC News that 5,209 people had been killed by the storm.
“It’s hard to speculate if the death toll will increase significantly,” Balido said. “But these figures include bodies from today.” He added that over 23,000 people have been injured, and 1,611 were still missing.
NBC News also reported that, according to NDRRMC figures, 4.3 million people have been displaced by the storm — including one million children — and millions more have been affected in some way. The damage includes $112 million in demolished crops, $100 million in damage to livestock and fisheries, and along with other assessments comes to a total of $288 million.
Arsenio Balisacan, the Philippines’ economic planning secretary, told Reuters he “would not be surprised” if the total cost of reconstruction eventually topped $5.8 billion. The United Nations Development Program has already pledged $5 million to help clear away the debris that stand in the way of relief efforts, but the program’s administrator also said four times that amount would be needed to fully clear the rubble. The Philippine government said nearly 25,000 personnel, 104 ships and boats and 163 aircraft from various countries have been deployed, along with almost 90 medical teams.
There have also been multiple reports of breakdowns in civil order and widespread theft throughout the Philippines in Haiyan’s wake. But a sense of context and perspective is important here: “These aren’t ordinary times,” Rebecca Solnit, the author of a book on community response to disaster, recently wrote in the L.A. Times. “In a major disaster there is no electricity, so bank machines and credit cards are irrelevant; few if any shops are open; and many homes are simply gone, along with all the supplies in them. All of this means, of course, that there are lots of people without the essentials to survive. Taking necessary supplies from closed and wrecked stores and homes is how people have usually made it through the first days of a disaster, from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.”
When Haiyan hit the Philippines on November 7, its sustained winds were 190-195 miles per hour. That made it stronger than all but three tropical cyclones in recorded history, and the strongest ever to actually make landfall.
There’s also circumstantial evidence that climate change contributed to the storm’s effects. Rising sea levels may be upping the potential destruction of the storm surges storms like Haiyan bring. Furthermore, ocean surface temperatures east of the Philippines were about 0.5 to 1 degrees Celsius above normal while Haiyan was forming. They then cooled in the storm’s wake, showing how hurricanes suck up the heat energy. In principle, the difference between those warmer ocean surface temperatures and the colder ones in the upper atmosphere is what fuels the intensity of storms, according to Kerry A. Emanuel, an M.I.T. atmospheric scientist. Global warming widens that differential.
“As you warm the climate, you basically raise the speed limit on hurricanes,” Kerry told the New York Times.
That said, data from studies still show a high amount of uncertainty about how global warming is affecting the frequency and intensity of West Pacific typhoons.