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.

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  • Maglalawis

    Tacloban’s geographic location is vulnerable to storm surges. We can only conclude or assume that the majority of those who perished in the past typhoons, according to this article, were also due to storm surges. IMHO, it is about time to relocate the city or build man-made and plant natural barriers along its coastline. This will also serve as an invaluable lesson to other coastal cities and towns which are frequently experiencing typhoons annually. It is better to have a proactive preparedness than reactive response to disasters before another big one comes along.

    • batangpaslit

      “proactive preparedness”, well said
      I came from an island province too, but I insisted with my kin’s whose houses are by the sea to leave their houses.
      no one perished
      except for a neighbor who died not because a tree fall over their house, but he died because of extreme fear hearing the howling of strong wind

      • mawalanggalangpo

        so monstrous, i believe you, i know someone who almost got an heart attack when they were caught by a storm while vacationing on a hill in Boracay; mangroves i read help deter the surges, we should plant more of them throughout the earth’s coastlines

  • tadasolo

    Mr. Ocampo I hardly read your opinion pieces not for the lack of substance but the fact ” looking back” does not pick my interest. However in this regard your comments are a must read for all of us as a lesson learned and any rebuilding effort should consider history lesson which is Tacloban is a vulnerable place and rebuilding is just challenging natures fury. Maybe it is high time that effort should be made to rebuild in other communities where the natural elements of nature will shield the communities. Thank you

  • mawalanggalangpo

    we need a natural disaster, science and tech museum to learn lessons from history; teachers should be given funds to bring their students there or make their own hands on researches and projects right in their campuses and communities instead of going to the malls or unsubstantial tv programs

  • kayanatwo


    nobody asked me, but….san francisco sat smack right on top of san andreas fault and so is the metropolis of los angeles…..predicting earth tremors is not even a precise science yet, but in spite of this, these two cities continuously kept on growing…..both cities suffered catastrophic events from the past caused by earthquakes, but these two great cities with her city leaders and the citizens kept on rebuilding their cities after the upheavals…and rebuilding with the latest “seismic proofing and improvement” and with new construction technology to be incorporated or retrofitted to all new building designs and in road and bridges civil engineering ……the japanese people are also of the same breed of innovators for building high rises that could withstand violent earth shaking…

    tacloban city should be rebuilt with new building codes in mind that would / could stood the fury of category five off shore break waters should be erected for the city’s first line of defense.

    tacloban city should be the “model” for reconstruction, redesigning and rehabilitation for all city planners on how to rebuild a “city” from total ruin…..

    • tarikan

      This means, kayanatwo, that the rebuilding should & must not be left alone to lawyers. BTW, “…should be rebuilt with new building codes in mind that would/could stand…”. Installing breakwater is a brilliant idea in fact it’s an SOP in wharves.

      • tadasolo

        You need to build a wall 10 meters high to protect it from the storm surge. Come to think of it Tacloban is surrounded by the sea from the east, north and west. Building a wharf or wall is very impractical and it will cost a lot of money. It will be longer than the proposed dike at Laguna Bay to protect metro Manila which with one estimate will cost 300 billion pesos and is less than 2 meters high. Best thing to do locate it on higher grounds

      • tarikan

        Yes tadasolo, very impractical to build the causeway around Tacloban but maybe in some areas in Leyte and Samar it will do. Since the whole city of Tacloban was wiped out, can’t it be practical to just relocate it somewhere on higher ground and inland? I don’t know. It would be a real challenge to the govt planners. Hope all is well that ends well.

  • Ginnie

    Uhhhh you do know the “P” in those street names is “Padre”, right?

  • illianni pansensoy

    Love song and the typhoon

    Even though we have nothing left,
    the storm robbed us of everything,
    I am still in love with you my love,
    in the morning when I wake up,
    I will always wipe your tears away,
    hold your hands,
    together we will pick up those broken pieces,
    and restore what was lost.

    Though her wind was the fiercest,
    blew our home away,
    but she could not steal my love for you,
    our ways she could not part,
    I will never ever leave you,
    without you,
    I will be lost.

    Come closer,
    cry no more,
    I will always be by your side,
    together we will rebuild your lost beautiful garden,
    plant seeds of eternal love,
    I will do everything to shelter you from harm,
    give anything you want most,
    we will start all over again,
    and embark on a new beginning.

    • virgoyap

      A good poetry. A message of hope.

      • illianni pansensoy

        well thank you,it is about hope.

  • Zudo Tada

    Ambeth, you know the meaning of the word Tacloban in English means “to put cover”. And considering the history you mentioned I think government officials and planners must think very carefully and consider where the word for that place was derived.

    It that place really has to be covered then by all means they should put cover to Tacloban and relocate that city somewhere else where there is still no history of destruction. Tacloban should be considered no mans land. Convert it to wild life put animals there.

    Am 100% sure this history will repeat itself in the future. Believe me people I see the future already.

    • Esttie Radam

      actually, the first time i read Tacloban’s history I am really wondering why did people converge there so that it became a city… dapat hindi diyan ang provincial at regional capital,,,,,,

  • virgoyap

    If super typhoons have happened in the Visayas that cause enormous disaster and death, some centuries ago, then can we still accuse typhoon Yolanda as a result of climate change?

  • Damnasos

    we never learned from history because we never knew our history. the three hundred years of spanish period is lost to most filipinos. what is being taught at our schools are the two fictional satire books of rizal which subjectively reflects only the propagandist view of the spanish period. hardly a book on our own history and heritage during the 300 yrs of the spanish colonial period.

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