Cell ServiceWhen a hurricane rips through a Caribbean island, news sites often report the destruction of buildings, damaged roads and lost lives. However, one of the most important things that people lose in a natural disaster is often invisible to a spectator’s eye: cellular connectivity. Cell service is crucial to life in the Caribbean islands, just as it is around the world. When Caribbean countries lose cell service, rescue operations, the economy and society itself grind to a halt. That is why many people have been developing creative ways to ensure cellular access during natural disasters.

In 2017, Hurricane Maria destroyed 75% of Puerto Rico’s cell towers, which deprived 91% of Puerto Ricans of their cell service. The most immediate effect of losing service was the inability of rescue teams to find or assist survivors. For weeks after the disaster, large parts of the island remained unable to communicate with the rest of the world to tell people about the island’s condition.

Rebuilding After Hurricane Maria

The lack of internet and cellular service proved a chronic problem for Puerto Rico as it attempted to rebuild after Hurricane Maria. Businesses were unable to advertise or sell their goods, and people could not coordinate rebuilding projects.

Even a year after Hurricane Maria, 10% of small businesses had not reopened and 40% of the population had lost their jobs or were earning less than they had before the hurricane. Estimates of the total financial cost of the hurricane range from $43 billion to $159 billion.

Cell Service and Subscriptions

In Puerto Rico, the internet is so important that the poorest 40% of the population pay about one-fifth of their income for broadband service. The rest of the Caribbean is equally dependent on connectivity. In most Caribbean countries, there are more cell subscriptions than people. The island nation of Dominica, for example, had 152 cell subscriptions for every 100 people in 2014. While other Caribbean countries have been lucky enough to avoid destruction on the scale of Puerto Rico, cellular and internet access after hurricanes is a region-wide problem.

Organizations Helping

Various organizations have proposed many innovations that could provide access to cell service and the internet in the aftermath of a disaster. One potential solution is internet balloons. These are huge balloons that float more than 12 miles in the air and grant internet access to huge swathes of land. Such balloons can undergo quick deployment in the wake of catastrophe and remain in the sky for as long as necessary. Unfortunately, Google’s Loon, the largest maker of these balloons, has shut down. As a result, the future of the idea is in doubt.

Other solutions also exist. Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) is a special way of sending radio signals in disaster situations. TETRA is a decentralized system, so it can broadcast from boats, storm shelters, planes and countless other mediums.

TETRA is also a two-way system, allowing people to communicate with each other in addition to a central broadcaster. Several Caribbean nations, such as the Dominican Republic, already use TETRA systems to provide both warning and relief to the public.

Natural disasters are inevitable, and so much depends on a country’s ability to respond to and recover from them. Perhaps no factor is as important for recovery as good cellular and internet service. New technology will hopefully ensure that connectivity continues when people most need it.

– Thomas Brodey
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Worst TyphoonsA tropical cyclone is a generic term for a rotating, organized system of clouds and thunderstorms that starts over tropical or subtropical waters and has a closed low-level atmospheric circulation. The words hurricane and typhoon both refer to tropical cyclones.

However, the word hurricane is used for tropical cyclones that form over the North Atlantic Ocean and Northeast Pacific, and the word typhoon is used for tropical cyclones that form over the Northwest Pacific Ocean. Typhoons are often seen as more destructive than hurricanes because they tend to hit the densely populated countries of Asia. Below is a list of the top 10 worst typhoons of all time.

Top 10 Worst Typhoons

  1. Haiphong – The Haiphong typhoon of October 8, 1881, was one of the most catastrophic events in history. It is the third deadliest tropical cyclone in history. The category of this typhoon is unknown since it occurred before the meteorological advances of the twentieth century. However, what is known is this gigantic typhoon was able to travel through the Gulf of Tonkin. As a result, it ravaged Haiphong, Vietnam and the surrounding coastal area, killing 300,000 people.
  2. Nina Typhoon Nina, a Category 4 typhoon that appeared on July 30, 1975, currently holds the rank of fourth-deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded. Most of the destruction from this typhoon came not from its devastating winds but from flooding triggered by the collapse of the Banqiao Dam in Zhumadian City, Henan province, China. The collapse of this dam also caused other smaller dams to collapse, which caused even more damage. The death toll is totaled at 229,000 people.
  3. Haiyan Typhoon Haiyan formed rather recently in November of 2013. Haiyan was a Category 5 super typhoon that produced world record wind speeds of 315/km/h or 195/mi/h. It hit parts of Southeast Asia, especially the Philippines. With a death toll of 6,300, it is the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record.
  4. Vera – Out of the many typhoons Japan has suffered throughout its history, typhoon Vera was the strongest and deadliest. This Category 5 superstorm began on September 20, 1959. Through heavy rains, enormous waves and powerful winds, it destroyed thousands of homes, ruined crops and flooded rivers. In total, it left 1.5 million people homeless and took the lives of 5,000 others.
  5. Ida – The sixth deadliest typhoon to hit Japan was typhoon Ida on September 20, 1958. Landslides caused by this Category 5 super typhoon damaged or destroyed 2,118 buildings and swept away 244 road and railway bridges. More than 120,000 acres of rice fields were covered with two-foot tides. The Kano, Meguro and Arakawa rivers flooded and spilled onto piers and then destroyed houses, religious shrines, freight depots and stores. In addition to the 1,269 lives Ida claimed, it also left 12,000 people homeless.
  6. Sarah Typhoon Sarah, another Category 5 super typhoon, formed on September 11, 1959. In Japan and South Korea, Sarah’s high winds and rain destroyed or damaged thousands of homes, ruined millions of dollars of crops, caused extreme flooding and left thousands homeless. There is no agreement among sources about casualties of Sarah. Some sources claim that 840 lives were lost and others claim that 1,869 lives were lost.
  7. Nancy – On September 12, 1961, the nations of Guam and Japan experienced the destructive power of typhoon Nancy. As a Category 5 super typhoon, Nancy hit the land with 215 mph winds. It currently holds the rank of the longest-lasting Category 5 equivalent hurricane in the Northern Hemisphere, and it took 191 lives.
  8. Wanda – The Category 2 typhoon Wanda in Hong Kong formed on August 27, 1962, until September 1, 1962. It is the most intense tropical cyclone on record in Hong Kong. Even though it was only a Category 2 typhoon, Wanda wrecked or damaged more than 2,000 boats and left 72,000 people homeless. There were 130 people who lost their lives in this tragedy.
  9. MegiMegi, which is Korean for “catfish,” became a Category 5 super typhoon in the northwestern Pacific. It made landfall in the Philippines on October 8, 2010, and was one of the strongest typhoons on record. The impact of Megi was around 2 million people in 17 cities and 23 provinces of the Philippines. In addition to killing 69 people in the Philippines and Taiwan, it destroyed agriculture, infrastructure and more than 148,000 houses.
  10. Forrest – One of the fastest-moving tropical cyclones on record, typhoon Forrest developed in the Western Pacific on September 19, 1983. This Category 5 super typhoon damaged 46,000 homes in Japan. Although it was not as destructive, it is still responsible for 21 deaths.

The damage done by the top 10 worst typhoons reveals how vulnerable humans are to uncontrollable forces of nature. Humans have not yet developed the technology they need to shield themselves from all of a typhoon’s destructive effects though research efforts are ongoing.

– Jacob Stubbs
Photo: Flickr