Although considered “natural” disasters, studies have shown that the warming of the ocean’s surface is having an impact on the power and intensity of tropical typhoons. The destructive flooding from typhoons is amplified by rising sea levels, and excessive rainfall events have increased due to atmospheric moisture caused by global warming. We take a look at 14 of the worst typhoons experienced in Asia.
- Goni (2020)
Making landfall in both the Philippines and Vietnam, the Goni Typhoon of 2020 caused an estimated USD$392 million of damage, and was responsible for approximately 74 deaths. Lasting for an estimated 54 hours, Goni is considered the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone to ever be recorded. This super typhoon was considered a Category 5 and brought with it violent winds, mudslides, torrential rains, and storm surges.
This storm left an extensive amount of destruction in its path; causing damage to high-risk structures, particularly in highly exposed coastal areas. Water systems were severely damaged, electrical power and communication services were disrupted, and it even triggered a lahar flow from Mayon Volcano that caused near total destruction to one village on the island of Luzon in the Philippines.
- Lekima (2019)
Causing an estimated US$9.28 million of destruction, Lekima crashed through China, the Caroline Islands, Philippines, Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan and Malaysia in 2019, causing particularly extensive damage to China. With an estimated 90 deaths, this typhoon lasted for 18 hours.
On August 10, 2019, Lekima made landfall in Zhejiang, in the southeastern part of China, and affected Shanghai City, Jiangsu, Anhui and Shandong Provinces. Labelled as one of the most expensive natural disasters to recently strike China, typhoon Lekima caused significant destruction with its coastal flooding, river flooding and strong winds.
- Trami (2018)
The Trami typhoon of 2018 ended up striking Mariana Islands, Taiwan, Russian Far East and Alaska, with a particularly large amount of damage caused to Japan. Lasting 30 hours with an estimated four deaths, this typhoon caused approximately USD$2.69 billion of damage.
Typhoon Trami ripped through Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, reaching Category 5 intensity. Red alert issues for flooding, high waves and storm conditions in central and southern Japan were issued by the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA). Dozens of people were injured, with tens of thousands having been forced to evacuate. Photographs of this super typhoon look remarkable from space; with European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst describing it “as if somebody pulled the planet’s gigantic plug”, likening it to water flushing down a drain.
- Haiyan (2013)
One of the worst typhoons in Asia was the Haiyan typhoon of 2013, which devastated parts of Southeast Asia and was recorded as one of the deadliest typhoons to hit the Philippines. Lasting a whopping 192 hours (eight days), this super typhoon produced an estimated US$5.8 billion worth of damage, causing approximately 6,340 deaths.
Attaining Category 5 status, this typhoon affected more than 14 million people across 44 provinces. Its storm surge caused an extensive amount of destruction within the country, with local officials estimating that Tacloban City on the island of Leyte was 90% destroyed.
After hitting the Philippines, it weakened as it moved into the South China Sea toward Vietnam, and finally disintegrated into rain over Guanxi in China. World Vision, a non-profit organisation devoted to improving the lives of children and communities in poverty, recorded that Typhoon Haiyan devastated 20 of their development project areas in the Philippines, including the Bohol province, which had already been badly damaged by an earlier earthquake.
- Nanmadol (2011)
Also known as Typhoon Mina, typhoon Nanmadol was one of the worst typhoons to hit Asia. It affected the Philippines, Taiwan and China, and lasted up to 24 hours. It is estimated to have caused approximately US$1.49billion worth of damage, with the death toll reaching approximately 38.
In the Philippines, at least 11,720 people in 27 barangays, eight municipalities, as well as one city in four provinces were severely affected. In China, the storm ripped through the country’s southeastern coast and battered hundreds of homes. In Taiwan, around 8,000 people had to be evacuated, with rail service and school closures occurring, as the tropical storm swept through the densely populated areas.
- Megi (2010)
In 2010, typhoon Megi was the fifth tropical storm to be issued with a tropical cyclone warning signal by the Hong Kong Observatory. Lasting up to 30 hours and responsible for approximately 69 deaths, this Category 5 super typhoon was the first super typhoon over the western North Pacific that year. Megi devastated parts of the Philippines, Southeastern China and Taiwan, and has been recorded to have caused US$709 million worth of damage.
In the Philippines, approximately two million people in 17 cities and 23 provinces were affected when it struck. Leaving a trail of destruction to agriculture, homes, and infrastructure, with the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Kalinga, La Union and Pangasinan being the worst-hit. When Megi hit China, its status weakened into a severe tropical storm. It brought heavy rainfall to Taiwan, and triggered landslides which caused the death of at least 13 people with 26 others missing.
- Cyclone Nargis (2008)
In 2008, Cyclone Nargis was recorded as the deadliest cyclone to hit Asia since 1991. Lasting a phenomenal 264 hours (11 days), this deadly storm was responsible for an approximate 138,366 deaths and caused up to US$12 billion worth of damage. Affected areas of Nargis include Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, and China.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released a paper in 2008 studying the devastating effect that Cyclone Nargis had on affected regions. It drew a correlation between pre-existing environmental degradation and the vulnerability of local communities in the areas that were affected. It found that pre-existing environmental degradation caused by deforestation, over-exploitation of natural resources and degradation of mangroves were what turned a natural hazard into a major disaster, particularly for local communities in Ayeyarwady and Yangon in Myanmar.
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- Tropical Storm Thelma (1991)
Tropical Storm Thelma of 1991 was labelled as one of the most disastrous tropical cyclones of that year, despite not being particularly intense in nature. Lasting 192 hours (eight days), Thelma is responsible for at least 5,081 deaths, and has been recorded to have caused US$27.67 million worth of damage. It started in the east of the Philippines and had spread over to the South China Sea, where it headed onto the coast of southern Vietnam.
There was extensive damage caused to crops, infrastructure, and deaths, with at least 3,500 people killed in the coastal town of Ormoc, on the island of Leyte. Although considered a minimal storm with not the strongest winds produced, Thelma’s torrential rain triggered flash floods, dam failures, and landslides that devastated many villages in central Philippines.
After this tragedy, municipal local government units began reforestation projects to help alleviate the disastrous effects left by this storm. Flood mitigation projects, such as those directed by The Japan International Cooperation Agency were also conducted. This included, for example, the construction of bridges and slit dams for landslide reduction which interestingly, were projects that helped reduce the number of casualties recorded during the onslaught of Typhoon Haiyan years later in 2013.
- Forrest (1983)
In 1983, Typhoon Forrest was recorded as the third-most intense and fastest-intensifying tropical cyclone in a 24-hour period on record that year. Estimated to have lasted 264 hours (11 days) and caused USD$32 million, this storm developed in the Western Pacific Ocean and affected areas in Vietnam, Thailand, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Japan.
Accumulating an estimated total of 34 deaths, this typhoon destroyed an extensive amount of infrastructure, devastated roads, bridges, homes and dwellings. It was estimated that 2,560 people were rendered homeless in Japan and its torrential rainfall triggered landslides and flooding. Japan National Railways was said to have halted the bullet train services for hours, due to flooded rail tracks. Just 150 miles west of Tokyo in Nagoya, five school children walking home were washed away by suddenly rising waters with four being found dead and one 5-year-old missing. Twelve construction workers were swept away by a downpour-triggered mudslide in Nishinomiya near the western Japanese city of Kyoto.
- Great Bhola Cyclone (1970)
Known as the world’s deadliest tropical cyclone, the Great Bhola Cyclone of 1970 killed up to 500,000 people in present-day Bangladesh (East Pakistan at the time). The Great Bhola Cyclone is recorded as one of the world’s deadliest natural disasters. Lasting up to 240 hours (10 days), this deadly cyclone caused up to US$86.4 million worth of damage, and led to a number of United Nations resolutions and calls “to find ways and means to mitigate the harmful effects of tropical cyclones”.
It particularly affected densely populated areas, such as the plains of the Ganges Delta where it wiped out hundreds of villages overnight. When survivors were interviewed after this disaster, horrific scenes of watching their children being swept away were described. Government officials found that the “majority of the dead from the official impact of the cyclone were women and children because they were not strong enough to hold on to trees when the water came. They predicted that the water knocked over the weak and drowned them.”
Due to both natural and human causes, this cyclone set off a chain of political events that shook the region. It created the state of Bangladesh, started a civil war, and created the organisation Doctors without Borders.
- Wanda (1962)
In 1962, Typhoon Wanda left widespread damages and casualties when it ripped through British Hong Kong, Portuguese Macau, and China. Lasting 144 hours (six days), the Tropical Cyclone Warning Signal No. 10 was hoisted in Hong Kong as it passed over the territory. Causing approximately 11,000 deaths, with no finalised damage having been totalled even though it has been estimated to be in the range of millions of dollars.
As reported by the South China Morning Post under the headline ‘Hong Kong’s Day of Terror’, “Typhoon Wanda, with winds of up to 162 miles an hour, smashed its way through Hong Kong and in eight hours of terror, killed or injured hundreds, rendered nearly 20,000 homeless and left behind it a trial of destruction.”
- Nina (1975)
Known as the third-deadliest tropical cyclone in history, Nina affected areas in Taiwan and particularly in Eastern and Central China in 1975, causing up to 229,000 deaths. Lasting 240 hours (10 days) and costing a whopping US$1.2 billion worth of damage, typhoon Nina caused the collapse of a dam in Zhumadian in the Henan Province of China which resulted in further death and destruction.
Typhoon Nina caused one of the most destructive floods in the history of China. Due to its extreme rainfall over a three-day period, more than 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of farmland throughout 29 counties and municipalities in southern Henan province were severely affected. There was extensive property and crop damages, with famine and disease in the post-flood period resulting in approximately 100,000 of the fatalities.
- Vera (1959)
Known as one of the deadliest typhoons to ever hit Japan, Typhoon Vera killed more than 5,100 people and caused up to an estimated US$261 million in damage. This Category 5 super typhoon lasted 216 hours (nine days), with winds as high as 160 miles (260 km) per hour.
Also known as the Ise Bay Typhoon, this super typhoon made landfall and struck the Ise Bay region in Honshu and wreaked havoc and destruction in Nagoya. Due to its unbelievable strength, the effects of Vera were devastating. Widespread flooding was caused in the region, with thousands of buildings completely destroyed and leaving drinking water contaminated in different areas.
- Haiphong Typhoon (1881)
In 1881, the deadly Haiphong Typhoon affected areas in Haiphong, Northern Vietnam, Luzon and Captaincy General of the Philippines (now Philippines). Causing up to 300,000 deaths, this typhoon lasted a phenomenal 288 hours (12 days). Damage from the Haiphong Typhoon was so bad that it took Vietnam around five years to recover from it.
Also known as the “terrific Tonking typhoon”, this catastrophic typhoon smashed into the Gulf of Tonkin and set off tidal waves that caused floods in the port town of Haiphong, a region in northeastern Vietnam. Little is known of the social and environmental conditions there at that time, although it was clear that they were poorly prepared, as there were no protective barriers in place to protect the people. Today, this disaster still ranks high among the greatest losses of life from any tropical cyclone worldwide.