The World’s Most Powerful Storm in Four Years Strikes the Philippines

The Philippines is naturally at risk for natural disasters, but storms like Goni are expected to strengthen and occur more frequently with climate change

A satellite photo of Super Typhoon Goni. It shows Goni, a large, white, swirling storm moving over the blue Pacific ocean
The Philippines is naturally exposed to natural disasters like typhoons and experiences around 20 typhoons each year. MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC

Yesterday, Super Typhoon Goni crashed into Catanduanes Island in the Philippines at 195 miles per hour, devastating the island before moving west. It's the most powerful storm the world has seen in four years, report Regine Cabato and Jason Samenow for the Washington Post.

Two million people live in Goni's path and around 390,000 evacuated their homes, reports Cabato in another story for the Post. Of those people, more than 345,000 fled to evacuation centers, raising concerns about the spread of Covid-19 in a country already experiencing one of the worst outbreaks in the region. Plus, the Philippines is still recovering from two typhoons that struck earlier in the last two weeks, reports the Post.

The winds slowed to 135 miles per hour after striking Catanduanes Island and barreling through the Bicol region of Luzon, the Philippines' most populous island, report Jason Gutierrez and Hannah Beech for the New York Times. The storm spared Manila—the Philippines' capital and most densely populated city—but left 125 towns and cities without power. At least 16 people have died, mostly in the Albay province of the Bicol region, the Post reports.

In Albay, torrential rain washed ash deposits, mud and rocks from the Mayon volcano down onto the surrounding communities, burying around 300 homes, reports Jeff Masters for Yale Climate Connections. In regions across the island, floods brought on by the rain inundated the streets, killing several people and destroying homes and infrastructure.

Al Francis Bichara, the governor of Albay described Goni as "probably the strongest storm I have seen" in an interview, reports the Times. He says that in his district, visibility was reduced to around 50 yards and "roofs were flying."

Richard Gordon, Philippine Red Cross chairman and senator, says in a statement, "this typhoon has smashed into people’s lives and livelihoods on top of the relentless physical, emotional and economic toll of Covid-19," reports Neil Jerome Morales for Reuters.

The full extent of the damage wreaked by Goni won't be known for several days as recovery efforts are underway.

"We have been on high alert since Friday," Francisco Domagoso, the mayor of Manila, tells the Times. "Right now, we are busy clearing debris on the roads, including fallen electric wires and providing emergency food and provisions."

But these disasters aren't expected to ease up, experts say. The Philippines is on the frontlines of climate change, and residents are already feeling its effects. The region is naturally exposed to natural disasters like typhoons and experiences around 20 typhoons each year, and climate change is intensifying the storms, reports the Times.

Rising sea surface temperatures will subject the Philippines to more frequent and stronger storms, and natural barriers like mangrove forests on the coastlines have been deforested, taking away a powerful line of defense.

"Climate change is a big international idea, but we are facing this on the local level and we aren’t equipped with enough progressive vision for it," Dakila Kim P. Yee, a sociologist at the University of the Philippines Visayas Tacloban College, tells the Times.

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