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Why Taiwan is So Well-Prepared for Super-Typhoons

Nepartak slammed into the country last night.

A satellite image of Typhoon Bilis, the strongest typhoon to ever hit Taiwan. (Photo: Public domain)

Typhoon Nepartak, one of the most powerful typhoons ever to hit Taiwan, made landfall at about 6 p.m. eastern time on Thursday, making quick work of cars, signs, roofs, trees, and a host of other objects on the island country. 

But for a storm of such power—one meteorologist had said it could be a ”once-in-a-generation” typhoon—the death toll, three as of Friday afternoon, was surprisingly low, though dozens more were injured. 

That’s mostly because typhoon preparation in Taiwan is serious business. It involves a lot of what you’d expect—boarding up windows, battening down hatches, etc—but also, importantly, wholesale evacuations, especially in the southern part of the country, which is often hit the hardest. 

 

رياح قوية جدا مع دخول الاعصار من الدرجة الخامسة على تايوان #nepartak #taiwan

A video posted by BuKhalid 🌀 (@bu_khalid2030) on

This has been learned through painful experience. Taiwan has a long history with typhoons, sometimes getting hit by three or four a year, but in 2009, it was hit with its deadliest typhoon ever: Morakot, which killed over 650 on the island. 

Hundreds of those dead were killed in a single mudslide, which buried an entire village. And the public blamed authorities: why hadn’t there been more evacuations? It took just five weeks for the country’s prime minister to resign

The public uproar over Morakot was in part because a disaster at the level, in recent times, doesn’t really happen: no other typhoon in the last 15 years comes close, and, in fact, Morakat’s death toll was nearly double the combined toll of dozens of typhoons that had swept through Taiwan in that time span.

With the right preparation, in other words, Taiwan tends to survive even the biggest storms relatively unscathed.

And Nepartak, which started as a Category 5 storm before weakening, may not even amount to that. The storm hit land with winds of up to 145 mph, solidly in the Category 4 range, according to the Guardian, but weaker than had been feared. 

Nepartak then proceeded to do what storms do: drenching the country in rain, lashing it with wind, and then, mercifully moving on.

Even the only Category 5 typhoon to ever hit Taiwan in recorded history packed a lot more bark than bite. Typhoon Bilis swept through in 2000, claiming 11 deaths and $186 million in property damage, compared to the hundreds dead and over $6 billion damage wrought by Morakot. 

Every typhoon, however, leaves a mark, of course, and Nepartak is no different, as the videos emerging from the country Friday show. 

But sometimes all the preparation in the world can’t account for human folly, or at least misjudgment. Like this guy, who nearly got himself hurt doing … unclear things. 

It’s impossible, in other words, to protect everyone.