On Friday night, the compact but deadly tropical storm Washi swept across the central and southern Philippines killing hundreds. According to CNN, death toll counts range from 713 to 927. In addition, scores of people are unaccounted for and thousands homeless.
Although Washi was not an especially intense storm with peak winds of just 45-55 mph, the torrential rains and resulting mudslides caught the especially vulnerable region offguard, as Wunderground’s Jeff Masters explains:
...since the rains fell on regions where the natural forest had been illegally logged or converted to pineapple plantations, the heavy rains were able to run off quickly on the relatively barren soils and create devastating flash floods. Since the storm hit in the middle of the night, and affected an unprepared population that had no flood warning system in place, the death toll was tragically high.
Matt Daniels at Earth Sky writes the storm struck a region unaccustomed to tropical storms and rain of that intensity:
The areas hit hardest in the Philippines had never seen such widespread damage or heavy rain in their lifetime. Thousands of people had to climb up on the roof’s of their house as flood waters rose nearly three feet in one hour. People were swept out to sea while others were buried alive in mudslides due to the higher elevation in the area. The mayor of Iligan, Lawrence Cruz, said, “It’s the worst flood in the history of our city. It happened so fast...”
The region received 7-8 inches of rain from the quick-hitting storm, compared to an average of about 2” for the entire month of December.
The Associated Press (AP) reports morgues are full in parts of the region, and officials have no place to put decomposing bodies. In addition to the lives lost, 7,000 houses were swept away, destroyed or damage the AP said. The BBC reports about 40,000 people on the island of Mindanao (in the southern Philippines) are living in evacuation centres.
Washi, known in the Philippines as Sendong, may be the deadliest storm to strike any place in the world in 2011. Wunderground’s Masters noted that (until Washi) the deadliest global weather disaster had been Brazil’s flash flood in January, which claimed 902 lives. If CNN’s latest count of 927 is accurate (reported from the Philippines’ Benito Ramos of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council), Washi will prove even more fatal than the Brazil disaster.
President Obama issued the following statement in the aftermath of this catastrophic flood event this morning:
On behalf of the American people, I wish to express my deep condolences for the tremendous loss of life and devastation caused by recent flooding in the Philippines. In the spirit of our long history of friendship and cooperation with the Philippines, the United States stands ready to assist the Philippine people and government should humanitarian assistance and recovery efforts be needed.