National Geographic News
An aerial photo showing the devastation caused by typhoon Haiyan in central Philippines.

An aerial shot from a Philippine Air Force helicopter shows the devastation of the first landfall by Typhoon Haiyan in Guiuan, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines.

Photograph by Bullit Marquez, AP

Dan Vergano

National Geographic

Published November 12, 2013

The unofficial death toll for Super Typhoon Haiyan is expected to exceed 10,000 people in the Philippines, but the country is no stranger to catastrophic natural disasters.

From earthquakes to volcanic eruptions to previous super typhoons, death tolls following cataclysmic events in the Philippines tend to be high. Here are 5 reasons why:

Philippines map

1. Warm Ocean Waters

Located just above the equator, the Philippines faces the western Pacific without much else in the way to take the force of storms before they make landfall. Those warm, equatorial waters power storms, about 20 typhoons a year. (See related, “Typhoon, Hurricane, Cyclone: What's the Difference?”)

"It has the warmest ocean temperatures in the world. We call it the warm pool around Indonesia and the Philippines," says atmospheric scientist Colin Price of Israel's Tel Aviv University.

"You need temperatures above 28°C (82.4°F) for typhoons to form. In the western Pacific, the water's normally above 28 degrees," Price says. (Related: "Rising Temperatures May Cause More Katrinas.")

2. Coastal Homes

A lot of people live on low-lying coastal islands in the Philippines, with more than 60 percent of the population living in coastal zones, according to World Bank estimates.

Storm surges for landfall of Super Typhoon Haiyan reached 23 feet (7 meters) in some places and were more than 16 feet (5 meters) high.

Those waves rolled over low-lying parts of populated islands such as Leyte, home to the coastal city of Tacloban, where the BBC estimates more than 10,000 people alone died.

3. Deforestation

In past typhoons, mudslides have killed many storm survivors in the Philippines, notes meteorologist Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground website.

Hillsides denuded of trees have fewer roots to hold them together, which can lead to mudslides when they are hit by sudden huge outbursts of rain.

Deforestation has caused similar problems in places such as Haiti, where mudslides were triggered by rainstorms. The soil clogged waterways, causing stagnation later linked to cholera outbreaks.

4. Ring of Fire

On top of everything else, the Philippines rests on the Pacific’s earthquake and volcano Ring of Fire.

Driven by the Pacific's Ocean's crust diving underneath the continents, the result is earthquakes and tsunamis striking the Philippines with regularity. A magnitude 7.2 earthquake last month killed 222 people, for example, on the island province of Bohol.

5. Underdevelopment

The young, poor population of the Philippines has increasingly shifted to coastal regions, where rapidly constructed housing and inadequate evacuation plans may have played a role in the Haiyan disaster.

Indeed, reports are now emerging that people died in shelters too weak to withstand the storm surge and high winds of the super typhoon.

Over the long term, the Manila Observatory says that the combination of poverty and population shifts puts the Philippines among the Top 10 worldwide nations at risk of coastal flooding.

Jane Lee and Marianne Lavelle assisted with reporting on this story.

Follow Dan Vergano on Twitter .

72 comments
Sooman Han
Sooman Han

Even though we have earthquakes quite often and intermittently in Japan, we soon forget its devastating power, which was proven with 10000 deaths and disaster  in Fukusima power plant triggered by tsunami two years ago. It is really shame that poverty prevent people in Philippines from being educated and forces them to live in such a poor condition, leading to tragedy today.However, constant education and infrastructure against natural disasters were not enough to go against nature as we have already seen in some cases in Japan.

Connie Bidwell
Connie Bidwell

To all the generous and kind hearted people that helped  the victims of typhoon  Yolanda in the Philippines, thank you so much ! It is really heartbreaking to hear and see this tragic happening! To the beautiful and resilient people in the Philippines especially in Leyte and the other hard hit places, be strong and be more prayerful! Lastly, to all the wonderful people around the world, we need to do something on this climate change! We need to think and act NOW, because later would be too late....May the Good Lord bless us all !!    


Bafana Malaza
Bafana Malaza

i pass my condelences to all the lives that have been lost here, and i pray that as from now this country will get better with no natural disasters to occure for such a long time. may God be with those living in there and may the spirit of those in sleep find peace and create peace to those living in that country. my country South Africa will support all those living there with every help they need. God bless amen

Mei Simbol-Terania
Mei Simbol-Terania

@El Gabilon your words may ring true but of course, not everything is told or aware of what is happening here inside our country the Philippines.. I agree with you with the hardheadedness of people but if I may say a little about the contingency plans and all that.. 

Well. first, as everyone in the world knows, our country is riddled with corruption. In the last few months before this catastrophe we call "Yolanda or Haiyan", our officials are trying to nail particular persons or people involved in large-scale plundering cases wort P10B or $250M, now that's a big case and everyone in my country focuses our attention to that. Second, as that was ongoing, rebels attacked and siege a provincial City in Mindanao.. Now all the soldiers are on red alert and dispatched immediately to end this hostage situation. Many people including students who suffered traumatic days in the hands of the rebel whitout getting food where given aid.. As everything else is ongoing several destructive typhoon passed Luzon the northern part of the country.

Not long after that, there happened to be an earthquake in Bohol in central Philippines where 222 people died.. Now all the concentration was moved to that part of the country.. Local and national government rushed in to help search and rescue and rehabilitate confused and frightened people, noting that, an after-shock took place every minute... And after barely two weeks after that, the devastation caused by typhoon haiyan shook our nation and the rest of the world.

The government funds, not yet acquired by loathsome politician, for emergency and natural disasters has been thinned down.. I honestly think no government should have dealt what our government has faced and is facing right now... I talk about the government as a whole, not about politicians..

There were no local government people to handle the after-math of the typhoon, as they were also victims. They also lost loved-ones. The national government could not act decisively because communication was shut down and even the airport was thoroughly damaged.. It could not gather enough army forces because of the rebel attacks always plaguing Mindanao. Some of you may or may not know every corner of my country have rebels.. And they may take this opportunity if given half the chance to do so.. Don't mistake me, these people I call rebels, they have self-confessed love for our country and to our fellowmen.. They just have to do things for their ends.. 

And social workers have worked tirelessly from the hostaged community, to the people of Bohol and now the people rendered homeless by typhoon Haiyan.

Everything that has happened can strip even wealthy nations a large chunk off their fortune, now how can a developing nation face that.

Indeed we are grateful for the countries who listened to our plead for help. My kababayans or fellowmen may not have the means to thank you for now but I can and I will. I thank everyone, all the private individuals who got out of their way to help..

MaRozalia Abraham
MaRozalia Abraham

the problem is we are lack of preparation and information... pag-asa is losing its personnel because of low salary... what will happen if they all leave? wishing many of them will come back to my country and prayed everything would be better... also every one of us contribute to climate change.. we must do our part...


Gil Lambert
Gil Lambert

Praying to a myth won't help, except maybe to make people feel better as they're killed. I'm sure all the thousands killed prayed and prayed to this myth  Phil, being a religious country,and, of course, got no solace. 

Practical help is needed and a government not rife with corruption that is capable of taking preventive measures for shelter of the population as typhoons such as these will become more frequent as the world puts their collective head in the sand and whistles. 

Don't blame the world's politicians. They have the message loud and clear from their voters. The voters don't care.....yet, about climate change. Not until it happens to them and even then I'm sure the message doesn't click. 

People are so incredibly stupid.

Cedric Ticobay
Cedric Ticobay

It must be understood that the Philippines is a country of 7000+ islands as shown on the map, People live in areas close to the coastline or on plains due to economic and industrial demands. Resiliency on the part of its people is a "way of life" they struggle to survive which has been part of their culture. Yes the government is slowly changing the culture, still that's a tough job. Politics is still a major problem.

Let's just continue offering our prayers and thank you for the immediate response of the international community. May the almighty be with us always.

walter hermosura
walter hermosura

as a native in this country, i am grateful to the people who had given & is giving their help to my fellow filipinos that severely damaged by the super typhoon haiyan., & I am taking this privilege to express my thanksgiving to GOD., Because HE spared Bacolod City, of where i reside., & to anybody that can explain why did the storm passed over Bacolod City, since the location of Tacloban City, Cebu City are in the same circumferential radius & storm velocity path.,? it is a supernatural phenomenon that I by faith experienced how GOD protects HIS people.   

Lisa Mackres
Lisa Mackres

Sat., Nov. 16, 2013

I sponsor a little girl who lives in the Philippines but thank God she lives in the north, about three hundred miles away from the devastation.  I pray for Jerose Mabesa.  I hope the National Geographic community joins me in praying for all there.

Romeo Caoili
Romeo Caoili

I think the world is changing made by human activity,. Science says we have water & wind circulation this is what they teach in science class in High School, it is truly correct. All of us, share with the same activity contributing day by day thru burning to much fossil each day,.

What makes it worst is thinning air of the atmosphere.

clancy wong
clancy wong

you reap what you sow. You destroy nature and over populate,thats what happen, haiti and bangladesh just two good examples.Also corruption makes it worse.

ahmad rasheed
ahmad rasheed

May Allah (God) be with you, as humans we should be together to face this disaster, unfortunately our countries are spending Resources and Money on Fighting each other instead of helping the world from disasters. I think Philippine people is stronger than this disaster.  

Thầy Ba Thạnh
Thầy Ba Thạnh

Cộng đồng thế giới giúp các bạn Philippines hồi sinh. Chính các bạn cần vững lòng tin, đoàn kết sẻ chia nhau miếng nước, miếng ăn, manh áo, cái nhà, xây dựng lại Tacloban chắc chắn và to đẹp hơn. Các bạn trồng lại nhiều cây cối vừa tránh gió, vừa là nguồn sinh quyển, vừa chống lại gió, sóng biển và là nơi trú ẩn khi có bão lớn như Haiyan. Các nạn nhân bị chết, mất tích là sự cố đã rồi. Lo là lo cho các bạn  nhất là trẻ em những người còn sống phải chạy vạy trong khó khăn.  Chúc các bạn niềm tin vào sự sống.

Michael Paroginog
Michael Paroginog

City officials claimed that they were really prepared but the storm was just too powerful. It is stronger than Sandy and Katrina combined, as scientists described. Local people have experienced powerful typhoons for the past years but not this kind of typhoon of magnitude scale! Our country would have been rich if we weren't frequented by typhoons and calamities. On the other side, Philippines has been like a "warning device" because the storm hit our country first before it reaches China, Vietnam, or Japan. Yes, we maybe poor in economic matters but we are rich in the treasures of spirit. We, Filipinos, will remain steadfast, resilient, and our faith in God will be stronger as ever. My heart is overflowing with joy and happiness to all the people of the world who offered prayers and help. Salamat po

Chudamani Akavaram
Chudamani Akavaram

Freedom from any kind of disaster is possible only by control over them. But in Philippines this seems to have been overlooked by governments as well as people, leading to the disaster we have just witnessed.

Jonathon A.
Jonathon A.

The reasons presented by Dave Vergano seem to be reasonably adequate, but one cannot ignore other recent catastrophes such as hurricane Sandy. These 'mega-storms' seem to be growing increasingly common in recent years. Drastic global weather change is happening, and daily life is becoming more hazardous all over the world. 

I'm not trying to blame the weather changes on human-induced global warming, because i don't believe human's have played a major factor in climate change. I am simple trying to imply that a natural occurrence is happening here on earth and there isn't much we can do about it except prepare. The Philippines are a small chain of islands inhabited by a people of low financial stability. The houses were weak, and little to no evacuation took place. In a world where you never know when tragedy can hit, one must stay on their toes. 

It is truly a shame that so many people lost there lives to the storm that ravaged the Philippines, but we should take this occurrence as a lesson to future storms. More super-storms will come to various corners of the planet because that is how nature works. We as humans must accept this fact and prepare for ways to deal with such catastrophes so that we can reduce the damage and death they so often cause..

ubee canopin
ubee canopin

To all the people from all over the world who offered prayers and help to the Philippines. Our deepest Gratitude.. Thank you.
May God Bless you.. You are all amazing..

devon smith
devon smith

GOD BE WITH THEM AT THIS TIME WE PRAY.

Connie Bidwell
Connie Bidwell

It's a tragic event! Looking at the 5 reasons, whether it is a natural or man made cause, I think it is about time that people not only in the Philippines need to know these causes and be educated. Education about prevention of the causes and looking after our natural environment i.e. reforestation instead of deforestation., preventing people of living in low coastal homes...We need to think about it and act now...  What happens to the future  generation?  


Melinda Mills
Melinda Mills

Sad reality.  Hope it doesn't get as bad as Haiti.  They should start replanting the trees and assist with building standards.

James Schmitt
James Schmitt

It's sad. My mom is from the Philippines. Her home wasn't in the path. 

jodie l.
jodie l.

May they regain to an (almost) normal life soon.


El Gabilon
El Gabilon

Whenever a disaster such as Katrina, or this superstorm in the Phillipine Islands it is of course a tragic event and our heart goes out to those who are suffering and will continue to suffer from the loss of loved ones. Yet one cannot help asking if this tragedy could have been less severe had the Phillipine government instituted laws that prevented deforestation by requiring replantation. Secondly this country has had previous superstorms and yet no laws requiring stronger homes or no homes in vunerable areas. Instead we see not only in the Phillipines but in other nations including the US where people delibertly build homes along beaches or other dangerous areas.   It seems that no one takes the heed illustrated in the story of the three little pigs. In addition the Phillipine government had no effective contingity plans in place that would provide food, shelter, and medical care even though for hundreds of years storms have been pelting their homeland. But cheer up, if a catestrophic event such as this happenes in the US, the consequences would be the same because we are not prepared either.

Ba Ku Nhim
Ba Ku Nhim

Pray for the victim of the typhoon. But the world “South China sea” on the map is wrong, It is east sea. 

Ian Sloan
Ian Sloan

Considering that the upshot of Kyoto, and other misguided policies to reduce atmospheric CO2 effectively removes the opportunity of countries like the Phillipines having access to cheap energy, and are relegating third world countries to "high energy cost" poverty, it is a bit rich for alarmists to say "Look at the hideous death toll ( which it is ) !!" as some measure of just how correct their argument is ....

It is POVERTY that killed so many ... do you think so many would have been killed if the same winds had hit Florida ?

Considering that official windpeeds have been downgraded to within normal ranges, and Typhoons have been less frequent in the recent past, this ridiculous nonsense about "escalation" is just that.

Noh Lee
Noh Lee

one of the biggest disaster i have heard from eveywhere, on media, newspaper, internet site and TV. I hope they can endure their circumstances and hope coule be back to normal as soon as possible. The mother nature will be with people in there.

Gurga Spe
Gurga Spe

Allah(God) Blessed Filipinos and their nations..-  

 Muslim from Kurdistan- Nort Iraq

Wesley Lam
Wesley Lam

The damage done to the Philippines cannot be described in this article. I was near the coast near the city of Kaohsiung only 2 days ago, and the wind was very strong. Frequent and heavy rains, no Internet connection of any means, and so much more.

And this is only on the coast of southern Taiwan, very far from the Philippines. Imagine the devastation caused by the Supertyphoon in the Philippines now. If neighbouring countries can be hit so hard, no wonder the Philippines is wrecked.

I have heard of many organisations, companies, websites, even GAMING sites helping the Philippines. I am touched by this and I hope that we can help the Philippines rebuild itself sooner. I also hope that other countries and organisations can do so for future disasters.

Manny Brar
Manny Brar

We pray for all the people and families.

Romeo Caoili
Romeo Caoili

@clancy wong this is true, I know Philippines can create plenty of jobs, but the gov't is busy taking all the money from the people, that pay taxes

Mei Simbol-Terania
Mei Simbol-Terania

@El Gabilon your words may ring true but of course, not everything is told or aware of what is happening here inside our country the Philippines.. I agree with you with the hardheadedness of people but if I may say a little about the contingency plans and all that.. 

Well. first, as everyone in the world knows, our country is riddled with corruption. In the last few months before this catastrophe we call "Yolanda or Haiyan", our officials are trying to nail particular persons or people involved in large-scale plundering cases wort P10B or $250M, now that's a big case and everyone in my country focuses our attention to that. Second, as that was ongoing, rebels attacked and siege a provincial City in Mindanao.. Now all the soldiers are on red alert and dispatched immediately to end this hostage situation. Many people including students who suffered traumatic days in the hands of the rebel whitout getting food where given aid.. As everything else is ongoing several destructive typhoon passed Luzon the northern part of the country.

Not long after that, there happened to be an earthquake in Bohol in central Philippines where 222 people died.. Now all the concentration was moved to that part of the country.. Local and national government rushed in to help search and rescue and rehabilitate confused and frightened people, noting that, an after-shock took place every minute... And after barely two weeks after that, the devastation caused by typhoon haiyan shook our nation and the rest of the world.

The government funds, not yet acquired by loathsome politician, for emergency and natural disasters has been thinned down.. I honestly think no government should have dealt what our government has faced and is facing right now... I talk about the government as a whole, not about politicians..

There were no local government people to handle the after-math of the typhoon, as they were also victims. They also lost loved-ones. The national government could not act decisively because communication was shut down and even the airport was thoroughly damaged.. It could not gather enough army forces because of the rebel attacks always plaguing Mindanao. Some of you may or may not know every corner of my country have rebels.. And they may take this opportunity if given half the chance to do so.. Don't mistake me, these people I call rebels, they have self-confessed love for our country and to our fellowmen.. They just have to do things for their ends.. 

And social workers have worked tirelessly from the hostaged community, to the people of Bohol and now the people rendered homeless by typhoon Haiyan.

Everything that has happened can strip even wealthy nations a large chunk off their fortune, now how can a developing nation face that.

Indeed we are grateful for the countries who listened to our plead for help. My kababayans or fellowmen may not have the means to thank you for now but I can and I will. I thank everyone, all the private individuals who got out of their way to help..

Theo Seiler
Theo Seiler

@Richard Zonneveld - Richard, certainly well meant but they do not need prayers now. They need real help in form of financial and material support, logistics and distribution, medical supplies and hands-on work. 

Tim Spotswood
Tim Spotswood

@Ba Ku Nhim I've never heard of the East Sea.  One side of Palawan is the Sulu Sea, the other is the South China Sea... Who calls the east sea? (not arguing - actually curious)

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