You’ve Heard The Phrase “100-Year Storm?”

As the world turns its sympathy toward the Philippine islands devastated, just days ago, by the largest typhoon in recorded history, a fascinating fact has emerged and moved explosively across the Internet:

Just over a century ago, those same islands – indeed that same nearly destroyed town on the island of Leyte, Tacloban – were raked by another death-dealing typhoon that was estimated to have killed 15,000.

How was this fact verified? By reference sources available right on the web, housed here at the Library of Congress on a site known as “Chronicling America.”  The site offers hundreds of old newspapers, online, and is searchable. It’s a joint project of the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Activity on that site (especially from mobile devices) suddenly spiked starting two days ago – it was five or six times the traffic of a normal day — and when our web analysts looked into it, they found typhoon links and a big upsurge in traffic from users in the Philippines underpinning that.

Here’s the link that went viral.

It’s a shame that it takes a tragedy – make that two tragedies – to bring this excellent research tool into focus.  And, while this is indeed a sad story, looking at old newspapers isn’t exactly drudgery – you may notice, while doing research in old papers, how easy it is to be distracted by the highly opinionated writing, the ads for everything from corsets to cure-all medicines and the odd, sometimes ridiculous illustrations. If you’re not careful, you’ll never get that research done!

The suffering denizens of Leyte will include no one who can remember their past as far back as 1912; sadly, they were condemned to repeat it.  But there’s a glimmer of hope in this history as well – Tacloban made a comeback after that horrifying storm 100 years ago. Presumably it can again.

3 Comments

  1. Steve Goddard
    November 20, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Not just 1912, but Tacloban was destroyed “in less than half an hour” by a typhoon in 1897 which killed 7,000 people.

    From the New York Times November 28, 1897

    “THOUSANDS OF LIVES LOST. – Many Vessels Wrecked and Property Worth Millions Destroyed in Typhoon-Swept Philippines”

    http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F3071EF6385416738DDDA10A94D9415B8785F0D3

  2. Dwight E. Howell
    November 20, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    There have been 58 storm of that class since 1950. Only 8 of them occurred since 1987. According to what I’ve read that I trust global warming would mean warmer temps near the poles with lower temp extremes to drive major storms so fewer would be expected. I know a lot of alarmist say the reverse but based on best evidence these scare mongers don’t do science. They are simply trying to frighten people into supporting their cause/give them money. They couldn’t care less about what is really happening.

  3. Paulo Silva
    November 20, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Thank”s for such information.

    You are great. Thas is why I did registre myself at your website.

    As a Portuguese I Always had interest in such informations.

    Our past is interesting and knowing such subjets that took place another time, makes us think about all of it.

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