A Tale of Change and Continuity: Three Storm Surges, and Three Towns, Under Three Flags

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James F. Warren
Lisa Woodward


The historical record, though incomplete, shows that typhoon generated storm surges cause extreme damage and loss of life in the Philippine archipelago. Storm surges associated with typhoons historically make sea-to-land crossings. There is an annual average of nineteen tropical cyclones occurring in the Philippine’s area of responsibility, of which an average of nine cross the country. There are few areas of the archipelago that have not been affected by storm surges. This paper investigates the crucial role and impacts of this natural hazard in certain areas of the Philippines that have been exposed to typhoons and storm surges across the centuries. The paper discusses the character of the storm surge, highlights some of the worst storm surge catastrophes that have occurred outside the Philippines, and then focuses on three storm surge events in the Visayan Islands of Samar and Leyte. On October 12, 1897, November 24-26, 1912, and November 3-11, 2013, the exposed coastal towns of Hernani and Guiuan on Samar and Tacloban on Leyte were destroyed by storm surges. The recurrent damage and loss of life caused by storm surges and cyclonic storms has increased in these three places as the complex cascade chain of the hazard changed through time, shifting from thousands to millions of people displaced and their livelihoods and communities destroyed on three occasions between October 1897 and November 2013.

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