The Cataclysmic Impact of Typhoon Tembin (Vinta) on the Philippines

Written by: Noe Stephens, Victor Leon-Melendez, Elizabeth Gambino, Katlin McNeil, Audrey Smeaton, and Aidan Lewis

When it comes to this course there is an understanding that tropical storms affect more than just the geographic landscape within the area it affects, but also the individuals living in those surrounding areas. Once a tropical storm hits, the storm rips through the area showing the cracks that are already formed within the foundation, exposing the institutional gaps and breaks that affect the people more when a tragedy happens. As we have learned through the major effects of Hurricane Katrina on the people there becomes an understanding that there is always more to a story than what is initially thought of. No matter what impact the journals, articles, and images taken of the storm have, there is a bigger impact on those affected that has yet to be seen. People in different regions of the world are exposed to different understandings of what a tropical storm does and means to them, starting at the very beginning of how to name a tropical storm. 

In the article What is the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon?, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states, “Typhoons and hurricanes are both forms of tropical cyclones”. Tropical depressions are the weakest tropical cyclones, and if a depression strengthens to the point where its strongest sustained winds hit 39 miles per hour, it develops into a tropical storm. When a tropical cyclone hits a sustained wind speed of 74 miles per hour or above it is categorized as a hurricane, typhoon, or tropical cyclone, depending on its origin. In the case of Typhoon Tembin, the peak wind speeds were recorded at a peak of 80 miles per hour. Despite the intensity of the associated wind, the term “tropical cyclone” is used throughout the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. The name “hurricane”, however, is used in the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific, whereas the term “typhoon” is used in the Northwest Pacific for the same kind of storm. Therefore, the sole distinction between a hurricane and a typhoon is the location of the storm.

Typhoon Tembin, also known as Typhoon Vinta in the Philippines, was a tropical storm that affected the Philippines and surrounding areas in 2017. Typhoon Tembin began on December 20th and ended on December 26th, as it reached a maximum of a low-end category 2 Typhoon with the winds reaching 80 miles per hour. The storm hit landfall on December 22nd, but the warning of the storm was announced on December 16th as it was designated as a weak tropical depression which formed into a tropical storm on December 20th moving in the direction of the South China Sea. Typhoon Tembin first made landfall by hitting the island of Mindanao, and then hitting the islands of Balabac and Palawan on December 23rd within the Philippines. Typhoon Tembin quickly weakened once it hit landfall as there were exacerbated circumstances nearby with the winter monsoon happening. Typhoon Tembin eventually emitted on December 26th, taking 266 lives in total.

Affected places are listed as Philippines which is a connection of islands, Vietnam which is the southernmost Asian country, the Malay Peninsula, and Palau which is a small island west of the Philippines. First making landfall in the island of Mindanao in the Philippines and moving West towards the island of Palawan. The regions that were affected the most were the highlands and mountains across northern Mindanao and southern Palawan. Flash flooding and heavy rainfall caused the rivers to reach past their banks and spill into the roadways and small towns found within the collection of islands. Finding this information was difficult based on regions rather than the usage of the overall idea of the Philippines as a whole being hit by the Typhoon. The storm is mostly reported as affecting the country itself, however it only really touched the Southernmost island Mindanao and the western most island Palawan. 

Pink: Mindanao

Blue: Palawan

Although the archipelago is a large collection of islands, it is important to note the islands that were most affected in order to provide necessary context as well as provide proper representation to the affected areas for humanitarian efforts. As far as western representation of this disaster goes, it tends to homogenize the region despite many of its places having a very diverse identity, despite being grouped as the “The Philippines”. Because the Philippines is a collection of islands, each island holds a very unique sense of identity that coincides with their Filipino identity. So the lack of proper representation of the affected areas not only inhibits care and humanitarian efforts, but also perpetuates the idea that all Filipino people and cultures are the same and misrepresents entire communities. Saying that Typhoon Tembin affected the Philippines is similar to saying Hurricane Katrina affected the United States. Despite the statements being true, they inaccurately represent those who were most affected. 

Typhoon Tembin had catastrophic effects on Mindanao and Palawan. Part of what made this Typhoon so catastrophic was that it occurred right after the occurrence of another storm: Tropical Storm Kai-Tak. According to the Republic of Philippines National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, 42 million dollars USD worth of damage was caused by the storm in total. As Dakin Andone and Chieu Luu relay in their article Typhoon Tembin: Flash floods, landslides kill over 100, the category 2 storm was responsible for the casualties of more than 200 people and the displacement of 70,000 individuals from their homes. Of the provinces affected by the storm, the Mindanao province of Lanao del Norte was affected the most by the storm. Several cities were placed in states of calamity. Jay Zabanal and Diana Lat highlight in their article Palawan under state of calamity in ‘Vinta’ aftermath how the city of Barangay Mangsee had 80 percent of its infrastructure damaged by the storm with 200 homes being destroyed. The storm likely affected this region in other ways that are not as obvious as well. The storm took place right before Christmas and most likely resulted in a decrease in tourism that may have helped these countries to recuperate their losses in the wake of the storm. 

One could look at the destruction of Typhoon Tembin as insignificant in the grand scheme of storms. As mentioned in the article Tropical Storm Tembin Death Toll Reaches 200 in Philippines, the deadliest storm to affect the region was Typhoon Haiyan which killed nearly 8,000 people which is much greater than the more than 200 killed by Tembin. However, the destruction caused by a storm is never insignificant to those who experience them. For those reading at home, the destruction of Typhoon Tembin is simply a couple of numbers. For those who experienced the storm, it was a life changing event. 

Although we have many statistics on the event, the true extent of the impact of the typhoon has been muddled by a couple of factors. For example, although we have a statistic on the number of casualties of the event, we can never truly know how these casualties affected the people around them. Many lost family members, friends, and children; although we know $42 million dollars worth of damage was caused by the typhoon, we do not know the long term effects of this destruction on the people who were affected by the storm. The effects of the storm were not simply just statistics; yet, it is impossible to fully comprehend the interpersonal struggles of everyone who was affected by the storm. Thus, we cannot truly ever quantify the extent of the typhoon’s impact. 

Another factor that unfortunately muddles our understanding of the impact of the storm is negligence. Typhoon Tembin is a prime example of how human negligence can exacerbate the problems that are caused by storms. One such example is the events surrounding the sinking of a ferry off the coast of the province Quezon in the Philippines. As Agence France-Presse mentions in their article Search for ferry accident survivors continues, 5 dead, a 206 ton ferry was tipped over during the storm, leading to the deaths of at least five people. However, this number could be much larger as Filipino ferries have had an extensive history of overloading their passengers far past their designated carrying capacity. When disasters involving these ferries occur, these problems can become quickly exacerbated. Ferry officials stated that only 251 passengers were on the 286-capacity ferry; however, at the time of France-Presse’s article, 252 passengers had been rescued from the disaster, meaning that there were likely many more people on the ferry then initially stated. As mentioned earlier, overbearing ships with passengers is a common practice in the Philippines. Because of this, the Philippines has had a history of tragic maritime disasters, especially in months leading up to Christmas, such as in the case of Typhoon Tembin, as during the holiday season, higher levels of tourism provide a higher demand for ferries, leading to likely even more overcrowding on ships. One such example described by France-Presse is a collision that occurred in 1987 between the ferry MV Dona Paz with an oil tanker leading to the deaths of over 4,000 individuals. This, like Typhoon Tembin, occurred during the holiday season, leading to the exacerbation of the problem and more individuals being affected.  We are unable to fully grasp the gravity and effect of the tipping of the ferry as the negligence of others has caused many of the stories of others to become completely lost over time. Many will not know the fates of their loved ones as a result of this negligence. 

Art is an expression of creativity that comes in many different forms, taking place in images, written script, and both monumental figures and statues. Art is particularly difficult to define because what some may view as art, others may find less than extraordinary. In our research of Typhoon Tembin, we found little to no evidence whatsoever of physical structures or memorials that honored the victims of this storm. We found ourselves questioning the reasoning behind why no memorial was ever built for those that either survived the storm or died during the storm such as those built in the aftermath of Katrina for example. Our minds wandered into thoughts of if these areas lack the resources to create such memorials in the first place, or if monuments are not as culturally appropriate in this region as they are in the United States. 

The following pictures show the effects of Typhoon Tembin through each stage of the tropical storm: before, during, and after. Each stage highlighted the tragedy and reality of what a low-grade category 2 typhoon does to the people and an area once it hits landfall.


The image shown above is a satellite image taken by NASA of Typhoon Tembin before it reached a category 2 storm. Those who were affected by the storm may view this as a time before their lives changed, and may believe that this image holds more value than others that weren’t affected. Depending on the viewer’s perspective, images like this can sway in different ways and be either insulting, or life affirming. One way that this can be insulting is that it can be purchased as a framed image disrespecting the people who were affected by the storm if they themselves purchase it if they weren’t personally affected by the storm. This picture can be purchased on Fine Art America for only $59.99 compared to the catastrophic damage of a whopping $42 million in damage. This is both insulting to the victims and survivors as they themselves don’t get the proceeds from the picture being sold online as they are the ones dealing with the tragedy of the typhoon. Previously in this class we were shown a children’s bouncy house called the Tot-tanic. One way that this can be affirming to those affected by the storm is giving people the ability to look back at the storm that they themselves survived. They could regain a sense of pride within themselves for surviving a typhoon


During catastrophic events, photographers often capture images that hold value not only to those affected, but to those that view them as well. The image shown above, we believe, is a great example of this. It does a great job at portraying what these families had to go through to get to safety. As we mentioned earlier, flooding caused the destruction of many of the homes of these victims. In the background of this photo you can see a dog actively trying to swim to safety, and the people in front of them trying to save themselves as well. Although it is hard not to turn around and save their animals, these were the difficult decisions that people were forced to make: whether or not they were to save themselves or their loved ones. This creates a feeling of survivors’ guilt after the fact, which relates to the course concept of not only death but survival that we talked about earlier in the course.    


This image does a great job at demonstrating the physical destruction that Tembin was at fault for. Looking closely at the image, you can see people standing against the side of the bridge staring off into the abyss of the disaster. This makes us question, what were they thinking while looking at these damages? These people have suffered greatly from the loss of their homes and other large properties as well. This also goes to show that not all pieces of art have to portray the same message of positivity. The lasting effects of Tembin will be longer than many would want, as it takes months and even years to rebuild a city, community, and family after a great loss. A city might be able to rebuild a bridge in a few months with the proper resources when given, but a family has to deal for the rest of their lives with the trauma of losing their homes, families, and control within the situation. The lasting impact of the typhoon is more personal than geographical to the landscape as it scars the minds and hearts of the people within the storm. 

The process of researching a holistic chronology, magnitude of carnage, as well as individual stories of lives intimately affected, plays an imperative role in understanding and properly relaying the victims of the tragedy’s suffering and sacrifice. Learning about how the typhoon gruesomely coalesced into its staggering, devastating form, for instance, serves to evoke empathy into those who were directly subjected to its catastrophe. Discovering intricate details on how its colossal destructivity developed into a cohesive form helps us to understand the terror residents close to the storm may have been gripped by. Being forced to confront the life-jeopardizing prospects of such a colossal destructive force like Typhoon Vinta only accentuates the feeling of inescapable dread and lack of agency. It also provides a perspective into the diligence and attentiveness of which assistance, or an absence of assistance, were extended to these victims. Performing fastidious research into areas impacted and inundated by the typhoon ensures the strife of every victim is meaningfully recognized. It additionally permits for ample reflection over what precisely a “place” would be in this context. Are certain locations or local establishments and institutions often overlooked or conscripted under a ubiquitous umbrella of victimization as a result of this broad term? Delving into questions such as this was just one of several examples where the information gathering process precipitated ample rich, insightful discussions into the multifaceted significances this storm’s tragedy consequently offered. Enlightening ourselves with and analyzing the diversified breadth of adversity these typhoon victims were bombarded becomes evident as one looks at the comprehensive product. Because of our discovery of personal stories of persistent plight and expenditure of quality of life coming into fruition from this calamitous storm, like the specific tragedy transpiring on the ferry, we are provided a chance to help relieve these victims of conscription by a media branch with a sole agenda of accentuating the tragedy for the sake of spectacle, attention, and profit. We strove to fulfill this relief by scrutinizing given information from sources with a ubiquitous influence over the media we consume, like sites and reports from the U.S, as well as more personal interviews and primary accounts of the devastation. As a result of this project we were afforded ample opportunity to highlight the malleable scope under which tragedies can be observed and interpreted depending on how determined one is to attempt to immerse oneself and fathom a tragedy in a comprehensive, empathetic lens. This also spurred a plethora of discussion regarding how the amorphousness of an art medium allows for victims of these tragedies to exercise their agency and flourishing creativity to seize control over the consequent tumult of emotions and grief they may be experiencing. They’re provided a medium to highlight these tragedies and absorb the holistic discord it has inflicted upon their own personal world at a pace palatable and unique to them. By composing a multifaceted chronological narrative for this project, we work to inspire others to recognize the sprawling severity of these tragedies beyond a commercial spectacle, giving the victims of these tragedies an opportunity to breach out of a potential process of commodification or supernumerary conscription imposed upon them as a result of being pummeled by this storm. Perhaps others will now take their diligence to fervently research tragedies and elevate these victims’, these people’s, suffering beyond a mere statistic.

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