Belmont Club

The winds of Manakoora

What sank 3 destroyers, killed 800 men and inflicted as much damage as “a major fleet action” on the Pacific Fleet? A Philippine typhoon.

Typhoon Cobra, also known as the Typhoon of 1944 or Halsey’s Typhoon (named after Admiral William ‘Bull’ Halsey), was the United States Navy designation for a tropical cyclone which struck the United States Pacific Fleet in December 1944 during World War II.

On December 17, it struck Task Force 38 (TF 38), which was operating about 300 miles (480 km) east of Luzon in the Philippine Sea. Three destroyers were sunk, and a total of 790 lives were lost. Nine other warships were damaged, and over one hundred aircraft were wrecked or washed overboard; the aircraft carrier Monterey was forced to battle a heavy fire caused by a plane hitting a bulkhead. Search efforts eventually rescued 93 men.

In the words of Admiral Chester Nimitz, the typhoon’s impact “represented a more crippling blow to the 3rd Fleet than it might be expected to suffer in anything less than a major action”.

These are amazingly powerful weather systems whose sheer elemental force has to be experienced to be believed.  Recently, a powerful typhoon ripped through Luzon “packing winds of 100 kph (60 mph) [and] dumped 341 mm (13.5 inches) of rain in six hours.” A friend who runs an orphanage wrote to me on Facebook to describe the effects of this massive energy dump: of flooded streets, diverted aircraft, homeless people and drowned souls.  Only three years ago, Typhoon Xangsane, a Category 4 storm equivalent at peaks, came through the same area with ten minute sustained winds of 90 mph and 1 minute blasts clocked at 145 mph. To put that in perspective, Ike and the Galveston hurricane of 1900 were Category 4 storms (though Ike touched Cat 5).  The recent Philippine typhoon was more rain than anything else, but what rain!

Although these monster storms are lethal and their effects often tragic, familiarity breeds contempt. A catastrophe? Yes. But a culture long inured to their effects actually find them an occasion for excitement and adventure. The irrepressible desire to live takes its place beside the headshaking over ruined homes; it coexists with regrets over financial and human loss.  The truth is that on one level, disasters are fun. In the following videos you can watch thrill seekers wander the darkened streets by flashlight! Frolic in the flooded streets!

The human spirit is an amazingly resilient thing. I remember once seeing a gang of bank robbers fleeing into the Tondo Foreshore pursued by cops, with both sides firing for all they were worth, pursued by crowds of people, following as closely as they judged safe, watching the proceedings as it were a kind of entertainment. HG Wells wondered at the nature of man, at its highs and its lows. He asked himself,’Would it ever change? Would his spirit ever be extinguished?’ He wrote in his classic novel, The Time Machine, of the Time Traveler, searching out the nature of man.

One cannot choose but wonder. Will he ever return? It may be that he swept back into the past, and fell among the blood-drinking, hairy savages of the Age of Unpolished Stone; into the abysses of the Cretaceous Sea; or among the grotesque saurians, the huge reptilian brutes of the Jurassic times. He may even now—if I may use the phrase—be wandering on some plesiosaurus-haunted Oolitic coral reef, or beside the lonely saline lakes of the Triassic Age. Or did he go forward, into one of the nearer ages, in which men are still men, but with the riddles of our own time answered and its wearisome problems solved? Into the manhood of the race: for I, for my own part, cannot think that these latter days of weak experiment, fragmentary theory, and mutual discord are indeed man’s culminating time! I say, for my own part. He, I know—for the question had been discussed among us long before the Time Machine was made—thought but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind, and saw in the growing pile of civilization only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end. If that is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so. But to me the future is still black and blank—is a vast ignorance, lit at a few casual places by the memory of his story. And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers—shrivelled now, and brown and flat and brittle—to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man.

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Will man’s spirit ever be broken? I think not;  laughter will never be extinguished. Not while children live and Marca Demonyo gin is distilled.

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