Grant Walsh, a friend of ours in Kolkata, India, first alerted us by FB this morning to the threat of a monster storm – Typhoon Phailin – bearing down on India’s east coast on the Bay of Bengal. I was reading the Times, so I scoured the paper, and the website for more info. Nothing.
Fortunately, there are other ways. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Typhoon Phailin (pronounced “pie-leen,” and meaning “sapphire”) is about half as large as the entire Indian subcontinent, and headed toward Brahmapur, Odisha State (almost midway down the coast between Kolkata in the north and the southern tip of the country).
- The term “typhoon” is the Pacific equivalent of Atlantic “hurricane;” both can be called “tropical cyclones.” Phailin is currently Category 4, and unlikely to lose any strength prior to landfall projected for Saturday morning. There’s talk of Category 5 by then. (Note: Hurricane Katrina was Category 3.)
- India and Bangladesh and Southeast Asia are extremely vulnerable to tropical cyclones. The world’s ten deadliest cyclones all hit the Bay of Bengal or the West Pacific, and they killed at least 2.2 million people. Hurricane Katrina – which killed 1,800 – doesn’t even make the top 35. A single cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 1970 killed between 300,000 and 500,000 people.
- Odisha State, where this storm is likely to hit, is badly exposed to storm surges, which are expected in the range of 5-8 feet above tidal peaks. The topography is very low, with many river systems. 40 million people live here.
This is a storm, and a threat to many precious lives. It is not a case study in global climatic disruptions, or a matter for debating societies. From our relative comfort here at home, we will have to pray, to dig deep, and to give generously after this thing has passed.
But if you can stand it, watch closely as the news unfolds, because this is a glimpse of what sea-level rise will look like in a world of melting glaciers and ice caps. In fact, nearby Kolkata is ranked number one among cities of the world in population at risk from rising seas. (Miami is number one in value of assets at risk.) If this storm should veer north and hit Kolkata, none could fathom the extent of sorrow and suffering.
And as we in America continue to delay and resist action on climatic threats, I beg you, let us refrain from referring to this as an “act of God.”
Grace and peace to you.