Dual Disasters

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My kids are experiencing their first earthquake and first hurricane in the same week. My son thinks it might signal the end of the world, which would be “Awesome!” He’s 8.

While the Virginia quake doesn’t really qualify as a disaster, it did get me to thinking about one-two-punch disasters. Let’s exclude volcano-earthquake and earthquake-tsunami combos because they arise from the same underlying processes and event.

The best example of an apocalyptic combination of natural disasters that I can recall in modern times is one that never quite seemed to get the attention it deserved then and is often forgotten now, 20 years later: the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines at the same time as a powerful Pacific typhoon was sweeping ashore.Pinatubo’s eruption was the second largest of the 20th century, 10 times more powerful than the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. It’s climactic blast coughed up more than 1 cubic mile of material. The effect of all the debris and SO2 in the atmosphere lowered worldwide temperatures by one degree Fahrenheit from 1991-93.

Typhoon Yunya wasn’t an epic storm by Pacific standards. It’s top winds when it hit the island of Luzon made it only a minimal typhoon. But in a coincidence of Biblical proportions, it’s path took it across Luzon just 50 miles north of Pinatubo on the same day as the volcano’s climactic explosion on June 15, 1991.

The result was a torrential downpour … of mud. Here’s a clip from a Nova program on the dual disaster, narrated by the incomparable Hal Holbrooke:

A little perspective as the East Coast freaks out this week.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.
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