This Day In History: December 4

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On December 4, 2012, Bopha, a Category 5 typhoon nicknamed “Pablo,” struck the Philippines. Rushing flood waters destroyed entire villages and killed over one thousand people, in what was the strongest typhoon ever to strike the Southeast Asian islands.

"Entire families may have been washed away," said the interior secretary, Mar Roxas.

The hardest hit areas, the Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental provinces, the heavy rainfall triggered landslides and floods. Floods destroyed farming and mining towns all along the coast, flattening banana plantations and completely destroying some citizens’ livelihoods. Some towns were left completely decimated—muddy heaps of collapsed houses. CNN reported that the iron roofs of some buildings were swept away by the 175 mph winds like "flying machetes." Over 200,000 people were stranded after the storm, unable to get anywhere due to the landslides and rising waters.

When the storm first showed up on radars in late November, it wasn’t expected to develop, but on Nov. 30 it quickly picked up strength and speed. Once the government realized the threat posed by the storm, officials scrambled to evacuate people from the most dangerous areas, but residents were hard to convince. About 20 typhoons and storms lash the northern and central Philippines each year, but they rarely ever hit the southern region. Warnings to evacuate were not taken seriously. Even the more than 170,000 Filipinos who did heeded the warnings to flee weren’t safe.

“The floods and strong winds battered not just the riverbanks but also places where residents where supposed to be safe," said Arturo “Arthur” Uy, governor of Compostela Valley, the worst-hit area, said

The death toll started in the hundreds and climbed as days passed and missing people went unfound. The day after the storm, rain started to fall again, triggering panic and fear of another day of flash floods. The fear, as well as the effects of the storm, would continue for years. Hundreds were left in poverty. Before the nation could even recover, it had to suffer through an even stronger typhoon in 2013—Typhoon Haiyan. It took years to rebuild from all the damage. The Department of Social Welfare and Development were still building new homes for victims in 2015.

The damage had such long lasting effects on the region, that the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration decommissioned the name “Pablo” from its list of names for storms and typhoons.