Looking Back

Tacloban, not once but thrice


Padre Faura is an Ermita street marked “P. Faura” after the Jesuit Fr. Federico Faura, first director of the Manila Observatory, the precursor of the Manila Weather Bureau and the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa). Faura’s successor, Fr. Jose Algue, SJ, is similarly commemorated in the Tondo street “P. Algue.” Nobody seems to care that these street signs should be F. Faura and J. Algue. To complicate matters, the Sampaloc street sometimes marked “P. Margall” is not named after a priest but the Spanish statesman Francisco Pi y Margall, hence the markings “Pi y Margall” or “Piy Margall.” Streets are named to help us remember significant people in our history, but we rarely notice.

After it disfigured the face of Leyte and Samar, Supertyphoon “Yolanda” is now referred to as the most violent typhoon in living memory because nobody has looked back to find similarly destructive storms recorded in 1912 and 1897. Algue published a 136-page monograph (with pictures) titled “El Baguio de Samar y Leyte 12-13 de Octubre de 1897.” Algue visited Romblon, Iligan and Catbalogan before going to Tacloban which became the base station for data gathering by sea in: Vasey (Basey), the coast of Samar to the tip of Sungi, then Guiuan, Pambujan, Hernani and Dulag; then by land in Palo and Tanauan. His party’s instruments seem primitive compared to our satellites: barometer, chronograph, Throughton theodolite, magnetic needle, topographic chain, cameras, etc. But their data help us understand what happened with Yolanda. Their black-and-white photos show ruins of houses and churches, uprooted trees similar to those caught on video or digicams today. Algue traced the path of the storm, and his reading of the data led to the conclusion that: the typhoon that hit Samar and Leyte in 1897 was regular and typical; its velocity and translation put it in the rapid category; and its energy with internal or “ciciconic” movement made it one of the most violent to cross the Philippines.

I posted the cover of Algue’s monograph on Facebook and received a link on Jan. 12, 1898 from Tiago Mallen to the Australian newspaper Barrier Mariner of Jan. 12, 1898 that reads:

“TYPHOON AND TIDAL WAVE IN THE PHILIPPINES. 7,000 Lives Lost. Mail advices, brought by the steamer Gaelic from Chinese and other ports in the Far East, contain details of the fearful destruction wrought in the Philippine Islands by the typhoon and tidal wave during October [1897].  It is estimated that 400 Europeans and 6,000 natives lost their lives, many being drowned by the rush of water, while others were killed by the violence of the wind. Several towns have been swept or blown away. The hurricane first struck the Bay of Santa Paula, and devastated the district lying to the south of it. No communication with the neighborhood was possible for two days. The hurricane reached Leyte on Oct. 12, striking Tacloban, the capital, with terrific force, and reduced it to ruins in less than half an hour. The bodies of 126 Europeans have been recovered from the fallen buildings. Four hundred natives were buried in the ruins. A score of small trading vessels and two Sydney traders were wrecked on the southern coast, and their crews drowned. At Gamoa the sea swept inland for a mile, destroying property worth seven million dollars, and many natives lost their lives. The Government prison at Tacloban was wrecked, and of the 200 rebels therein half succeeded in making their escape. The town of [Hernani] was swept away by flood, and its 5000 inhabitants are missing. The small station of Weera, near Loog, is also gone, while in Loog itself only three houses are left standing. Thousands of natives are roaming about the devastated province seeking food and medical attendance. In many cases the corpses were mutilated as though they had fallen in battle, and the expressions of their faces were most agonising.”

Bobing Venida posted  another link to the Washington Herald of Nov. 30, 1912. It reads:

“15,000 DIE IN PHILIPPINE STORM. That 15,000 persons were probably killed and wounded in a typhoon that swept the Philippine Islands last Tuesday was reported yesterday in cable dispatches to the Bureau of Insular Affairs.

“The typhoon swept the Visayas and is said to have practically destroyed Tacloban, the capital of Leyte, and to have wrought enormous damage and loss of life at Capiz, the capital of the province of Capiz. Tacloban has a population of 12,000. Capiz has a population of over 20,000. Capiz is the terminal of the railroad from Iloilo. It is a most important sugar port.

“The first news of the catastrophe came in a dispatch of the governor general of the Philippines. No figures of the dead or injured were given, but it was stated that probably half the population of the two cities had been lost. The governor general sent his dispatch on Thursday. He informed the department that he was rushing a shipload of food, clothing and all available medical supplies to Tacloban. All telegraphic communication has been destroyed, and it is impossible to get other than vague reports of the extent of the disaster. That Tacloban has suffered an enormous loss of life is believed to be certain. Following the receipt of the dispatch announcing the heavy casualties in the Visayas, the Red Cross prepared to rush a relief fund to the governor general. The Washington office has cabled the insular government asking how great is their need. ”

All of the above suggest we do not learn from history.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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Tags: Ambeth R. Ocampo , column , Tacloban , typhoons , weather

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