Thursday, August 27, 2015


List of most devastating typhoons that hit Taiwan, 2000-2015

8/27/2015 Taiwan Explorer
While 2015 seems to be a very active typhoon season in the West Pacific (we've just survived Soudelor, the windiest typhoon to rage through the the region in recent years), it's not that much out of the ordinary, if we compare it with the typhoon activity of the past 15 years. I decided to dig deeper, and have made a list of all the typhoons that made landfall on Taiwan in this period (on average about 2 per year), and highlighted those, that caused the most devastation and suffering to the people of Taiwan. I hope my readers can learn some of Taiwan's history of natural disasters, and get a better understanding of how nature shapes the life and the people in Taiwan.

List of typhoons that made landfall in Taiwan (2000-2015)

The way I approached this list is, I went through Wikipedia's excellent annual Pacific typhoon season pages. I started with the year 2000, and worked myself up until 2015 and made an excel file. Here's the full list (marked in bold are the largest and most devastating ones, which I will highlight further below):

While I can assure that the data in the first 7 columns is accurate, I can't say the same for the last four (dead, missing, damage, power outages). I've cross-checked all the data with the Chinese Wikipedia, and there were lots of inconsistencies, especially on the damage estimation, so take these numbers just as a reference. Out of these 27 on the list I selected 11 typhoons that left a huge mark on Taiwan and wrote more about them. I found myself at an interesting challenge: What should make a typhoon qualify to be on the top list? Is it the pure natural force, the wind speed, the rain, the pressure? Is it the damage to the nature, the mudslides, the floods? Or is it the material damage to the people, and the casualties? I took all these different aspects into account, but at the end it was my personal selection, so you may well disagree with some of the typhoons I chose to add or omit.

List of most devastating typhoons that hit Taiwan (2000-2015)

This list is made in chronological order to give you an easy overview. I searched the web for videos and articles from that time, and surprisingly, a lot of original reporting can be found, if you dig deep enough.

2000 | BILIS | 碧利斯

Typhoon Billis made landfall on Taiwan on 22. August 2000 in Taitung County and passed through Southern Taiwan, where it caused most damage. A report from the BBC from that time sums up the aftermath:

"Giant typhoon hits Taiwan", BBC, 22 August, 2000:

Local airlines have cancelled flights to southern Taiwan and many airports have been closed. Taiwan's cabinet has set up an emergency centre in Taipei, which is manned by the police, fire services and military. Officials said government offices, banks and Taiwan's stock market will be closed on Wednesday. The authorities have even relaxed a law which bans fisherman from the Chinese mainland coming ashore. Reports say about 1,000 have been allowed to take shelter on the island - usually they are required to remain aboard ships moored in port during heavy weather. Rescue centres have also been reinforced in Nantou county, where thousands are still living in temporary homes following last year's massive earthquake.

The part about Chinese fishermen is very interesting, if you put it in the context of the 2000 Presidential Election, where the pro-independence candidate Chen Sui-bian won the election. He was in office since May 20th, merely 3 months at the time when Bilis made landfall. The massive earthquake referred in the article is the so called "921 Earthquake", an earthquake of 7.6 magnitude, that devastated huge parts of central Taiwan on September 21st, 1999.

2001 | TORAJI | 桃芝

Typhoon Toraji made landfall in Hualien and crossed Taiwan through the central part and then headed further to China's Fujian province. An article from the Taipei Times sums it up:

"Typhoon Toraji trounces Taiwan", Taipei Times, July 31, 2001:

Typhoon Toraji swept across Taiwan yesterday leaving as many as 35 people dead, 108 missing and more than 340,000 without electricity, as of press time last night. Agricultural and forestry losses were estimated at more than NT$700 million, officials said yesterday. Toraji -- the eighth typhoon this year and the second to make landfall -- had been losing strength since midnight last night after making landfall in Hualien County and was downgraded to a tropical storm.

One of the biggest tragedies of this typhoon was the mudslide that destroyed the Daxing Village (大興村) in Hualien, according to Wikipedia 27 people died. With over 100 deaths overall, this was one of the deadliest typhoons on the list.

2001 | NARI | 納莉

Typhoon Nari is probably the second most famous typhoon in Taiwan's modern times after Morakot. Nari brought massive floods, that also affected Taipei, killed a lot of people, caused vast material damage, and it was the first major natural disaster under President Chen Sui-bian. Interestingly, it happened a few days after September 11th attacks in New York. Here's a report from the BBC from that time:

"Typhoon Nari kills 48 in Taiwan", BBC, 18 September, 2001:

At least 48 people have died and 22 are listed as missing in Taiwan after Typhoon Nari brought the island's heaviest recorded rainfall and widespread flooding.
President Chen Shui-bian toured the worst affected areas on an amphibious armoured vehicle as more than 10,000 people were evacuated from sections of northern and central Taiwan. Most of the victims were in the north of the island where Nari struck on Monday, but it remains over central and southern Taiwan. The island's National Fire Administration (NFA) said victims, residents of Taipei and Keelung, were either buried by mudslides or washed away by the floods. Rescuers are continuing to dig through mud and rocks which crashed into houses and more bodies are expected to be found. Mr Chen said: "The search must not stop until all the people classed as missing are found." The stock market was closed, ground and air traffic disrupted and the mass rapid transport system in Taipei was paralysed.

This typhoon is famous for several things: It was the first typhoon that entered Taiwan from north-east, from Okinawa, and headed south-west (most often typhoons enter from the east to west or from south to north). This typhoon was very slow, had a very unpredictable path, and remained in Taiwan for an unusually long time. Here's what Taiwan Panorama said at that time (10/2001):

Nari rewrote meteorological history, breaking records for Taiwan's slowest-moving and longest-lasting typhoon, the most eccentric path, and for daily rainfall. It also caused the greatest property damage since the September 21 earthquake of two years ago, and affected millions of people.

The eye of the storm remained over Taiwan for almost 50 hours-ten times as long as most typhoons, which stay over land only four to five hours. Even senior meteorologists were astounded. It seems that all of us, from schoolchildren up, will need to revise our notions about the weather.

What makes Nari even more memorable for Taiwanese is that it flooded the Taipei MRT, over 2 meters in some parts. I have a friend who worked in the MRT at that time and she cannot forget how crazy it was. She told me the story of the last train operator who was escaping from the flood. The rain water entered the MRT from Nangang, and when he was driving the train (at that time it was manual, now it's all operated by computers), he saw the water at the back coming at him, he was literally driving for his life. The MRT was not operational for over 3 months afterwards, that was its biggest disruption in history so far.

2005 | HAITANG | 海棠

Typhoon Haitang was the first major typhoon since Nari, and after a period of 4 years with relatively milder typhoons. It made landfall in Hualien in July 18th, 2005, and passed through central Taiwan and then left for China's Fujian province. Here some bits from an article from that time:

"Typhoon's winds, rain pound nation", Taipei Times, July 19th, 2005:

Typhoon Haitang tore across Taiwan yesterday, bringing powerful winds and torrential rain, and shutting down schools, workplaces, airports and railroads across the country. Haitang was the strongest typhoon to hit the country in five years.

Blackouts caused by the storm affected 1.36 million households and 12,000 households experienced water restrictions. At 6pm yesterday, Haitang was packing maximum winds of 162kph, down from a previous 184kph, and gusts of up to 198kph, weaker than the earlier 227kph, the Central Weather Bureau said.

In Taipei City, howling winds uprooted trees and street signs. Billboards lay toppled on the roads, and sandbags lined the doors of shops and homes. Household waste collection service was unavailable yesterday because all garbage trucks were being used to collect leaves and tree branches that had fallen on streets.

2009 | MORAKOT | 莫拉克

This is the mother of all typhoons that hit Taiwan in recent years. Among all 27 typhoons on my list, Morakot is the one that caused the most devastation and the biggest human tragedy. Over 600 people died during one of the heaviest rainfalls in 50 years, that caused massive floods and landslides. The typhoon is often referred to as 八八水災, literally 88 Flood (based on the date of August 8th). The total cost as a consequence of this typhoon was over 6 billion USD, the highest of any typhoon in Taiwan's modern history. This also happened at a time when Taiwan changed governments from DPP to KMT, President Ma Ying-jeou was merely 1 year in office, this was his biggest disaster to deal with. Here an article from the Taipei Times:

"Morakot toll may surpass 500: officials", Taipei Times, August 15, 2009:

The death toll from Typhoon Morakot will pass 500, but the real figure might never be known, government officials said yesterday. At a national security meeting yesterday — the first since the typhoon slammed southern Taiwan, wreaking havoc in mountainous regions — President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said 380 people in Xiaolin Village (小林) were buried alive, while 7,000 were left homeless. “With 117 confirmed deaths from the typhoon and 380 people feared to have been buried alive by mudslides in Xiaolin Village, Taiwan’s death toll could rise to more than 500,” Ma said at the Presidential Office. ”The situation is far more serious than the Aug. 7 flood that damaged Taiwan 50 years ago ... The government must take full responsibility for the damage and conquer all difficulties to finish the task,” he said.

The typhoon dumped more than 3m of rain, setting off flooding and mudslides that tore through houses and buildings, wiped away roads and destroyed bridges. The scale of the crisis has overwhelmed authorities, which have been criticized for being too slow in realizing the magnitude of the crisis. As anger over the government’s response mounted, Ma yesterday vowed to help victims. “The government will overcome all obstacles in accomplishing this mission,” he said. Ma blamed the Executive Yuan for failing to evacuate residents living in threatened villages earlier, and demanded that it present a comprehensive plan for the evacuation of residents in the event of future disasters.

The biggest tragedy of this typhoon was the Xiaolin Mudslide, where at the end a total of 462 people died - they were buried alive. Ma went to visit the village in the aftermath and faced a lot of anger from the people:

"Ma berated by victims on visit to Xiaolin Village", Taipei Times, August 20, 2009:

Twelve days after Typhoon Morakot lashed the nation, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday visited Xiaolin Village (小林), Kaohsiung County — one of the hardest hit areas. Ma was confronted by angry relatives and friends of the approximately 400 people who are believed to have died when the village was destroyed by mudslides. An unidentified woman screamed in Ma’s face, saying a government construction project had contributed to the Xiaolin disaster by weakening the foundations of several surrounding mountains. One man recalled comments Ma made to Britain’s ITN News in which he appeared to blame the victims for their own fate, saying they did not evacuate storm-affected areas quickly enough. “Why are you coming here to see us only now?” the man asked in footage broadcast by several TV stations. “You keep blaming the disaster on us for not evacuating earlier. We did not receive any instruction to leave before the storm hit.”

If you want to see how Xiaolin looks like now, check out the blog post by Kirk Beiser "Xiaolin and the devastation of Typhoon Morakot" from 2012.

Another curious event happened in the aftermath, namely the Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan on August 31st (Photo via He was invited by the DPP (at that time opposition party), and came to visit the tragic Xiaolin village to pray for the victims. Here a summary from the Telegraph, August 31, 2009:

The Dalai Lama has begun a five-day visit to the victims of Typhoon Morakot in Taiwan, which he described as "purely humanitarian" and not part of a political game with China.

President Ma Ying-jeou, was put on the spot after opposition politicians invited the Dalai Lama to visit. Mr Ma, who refused the head of Tibetan Buddhism a visa last year, has come under fire for his government's failure to react quickly to the disaster, and was in no position to refuse the Dalai Lama again.

Around 50 demonstrators gathered to protest his arrival, waving Chinese flags and shouting: "Go home Dalai Lama, don't come here." There were brief scuffles with police. "I'm here to oppose the Dalai Lama's visit," 62-year-old Feng Tsai-chiao said. "I want unification with China, so I don't like him."

More from Time:

When reporters asked him what he thought of the protests, the Dalai Lama cheerfully responded, "Wonderful. These people enjoy freedom of expression and thought. I love that."

After answering reporters' queries in Siaolin, a man named Wang Min-liang and his female friend kneeled before him offering a khata — a long white silk scarf usually given to bless a highly respected person in Tibetan culture. The Dalai Lama touched their cheeks with his hands and hugged them, and Wang, who lost fourteen family members including his parents and siblings to Siaolin's mudslides, began to cry. "I came to share their traumatic experience," the Dalai Lama said that day. "I don't want to cause any inconvenience to anybody."

That was the last time the Dalai Lama stepped on Taiwanese soil.

One of the videos, that made international headlines at that time was this hotel, that fell into the water. It was the Jinshuai Hotel in Jhihben, one of Taiwan's most famous hot spring resorts. It's located in Taitung County.

Here's a report in English, that shows how strong the floods were in Laiyi Township in Pingtung County, Taiwan's most southern part.

Here's another video showing how massive the floods were in Southern Taiwan. It was taken during a high speed train ride between Tainan and Chiayi a day after Morakot hit.

These are just horrendous and unbelievable images. I hope we never get to see anything like Morakot again.

2010 | FANAPI | 凡那比

Typhoon Fanapi made landfall on 19th September, 2010 in Hualien and headed south. It caused a lot of devastation in Pinging and Kaohsiung, bringing massive floods along the way. The video above went viral, it shows how powerful the typhoon could be.

"Typhoon Fanapi pounds Taiwan, soaks the south", Taipei Times, Sep 20th, 2010:

Taiwan was pounded by winds of more than 200kph yesterday as Typhoon Fanapi crippled transportation nationwide and prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents from mountainous areas prone to devastating landslides. While Fanapi made landfall in Hualien County’s Fengbin Township (豐濱) at 8:40am, severe flooding was reported in southern Taiwan.

2011 | NANMADOL | 南瑪都

Typhoon Nanmadol made landfall in Taiwan on August 29, 2011, in Hengchun, mainland Taiwan's Southernmost part. It brought heavy rain, that caused floods and landslides in the south of the country.

"Typhoon Nanmadol leaves one dead", Taipei Times, August 30, 2011:

Although the typhoon was reduced to a tropical storm by 8am yesterday, heavy rain caused landslides and trapped about 300 people in Wutai Village. Torrential rain brought by Typhoon Nanmadol caused severe flooding in Pingtung County yesterday, damaging more than 600 houses in Hengchun Township (恆春) and claiming one life before heading for China. Aside from Hengchun, flooding was also reported in Pingtung’s Linbian (林邊), Donggang (東港), Jiadong (佳冬) and Wanluan (萬巒) townships. Two houses in Manjhou Township (滿州) were damaged by a mudslide, although no casualties were reported. The county was also forced to shut down eight bridges because of rising river levels.

2012 | SAOLA | 蘇拉

Typhoon Saola entered Taiwan in Yilan on August 2nd, 2012, and caused a lot of destruction in the north, especially around Greater Taipei. It was a very rain heavy typhoon. One of the tragedies that were caused by Saola was a man that was buried alive by a pavement collapse, that was caught live on TV (see video above). Here's what the news said about Saola:

"Typhoon Saola kills five, injures 16 in Taiwan", Want China Times, August 3rd, 2012:

Typhoon Saola has caused five deaths and 16 injuries in Taiwan, the country's Central Emergency Operation Center said Thursday. Two people died in New Taipei in northern Taiwan, one in Chiayi county in the south and two in the northeastern county of Yilan, the center said. Eight of the 16 injuries occurred in New Taipei, the highest number of injuries recorded among affected counties or cities, the center said, adding that two people are still listed as missing. Meanwhile, total agricultural losses around Taiwan were estimated at NT$218.5 million (US$7.29 million), as of 4pm, government data showed. Agricultural produce suffered the most damage, totaling NT$109.5 million (US$3.6 million), with certain vegetables and seasonal fruits being the worst hit. Water and soil conservation authorities have issued code-red landslide alerts for 779 flood-prone areas as of 8pm, mostly in Nantou county and Taichung in central Taiwan, as well as Yilan and Miaoli counties and New Taipei in the north. The state-run Taiwan Water Corp said water supply to 8,440 households around Taiwan has been suspended, while 16,000 households are experiencing low water pressure.

2013 | SOULIK | 蘇力

Soulik made landfall on July 12, 2013, entering Taiwan in Yilan and passing through Greater Taipei, Taoyuan, and Miaoli, mostly affecting northern Taiwan.

"Soulik leaves two dead, 104 injured", Taipei Times, July 14, 2013:

Two people died, one person remained missing and another 104 were injured as Taiwan was battered by heavy rains and strong winds from Typhoon Soulik, the Central Emergency Operation Center said yesterday.

The Presidential Office said Ma canceled a trip he was meant to take to Greater Taichung yesterday afternoon to promote the cross-strait service trade agreement at the Dajia Jenn Lann Temple and celebrate his birthday with locals, so that he could monitor the situation in Taipei. The office said Ma was keeping in close contact with Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and other top government officials to obtain the latest information on the typhoon.

Nearly 960,000 homes across Taiwan experienced power cuts yesterday, half of which saw their electricity restored by the afternoon, Taiwan Power Co said.

2014 | MATMO | 麥德姆

Typhoon Matmo made landfall on in the night from July 22nd to July 23rd, 2014. It entered mainland Taiwan in Taitung, and passed through central Taiwan only to leave to China's Fujian Province. Here's what the news reported right at that time:

"Typhoon Matmo hurts 17, many lose power", Taipei Times, July 24, 2014:

Seventeen people were injured and more than 460,000 households lost power as Typhoon Matmo pummeled the nation with torrential rainfall and strong wind, the Central Emergency Operation Center (CEOC) said yesterday. Statistics from the center showed that six of the injuries were reported in Taipei, four in New Taipei City, two each in Greater Taichung and Greater Tainan and one each in Chiayi, Taitung and Yunlin counties.

Most of those hurt had been hit by felled trees or objects blown by the strong winds. About 460,000 households lost power during the typhoon, the majority in New Taipei City and Yunlin, Hualien and Taitung counties. At press time last night, about 65,000 households were still without power.

Right after Matmo left the Taiwanese mainland for China, it still had a trail of gusty winds and rains behind him, that affected the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan's outlying islands. It's believed to have had an effect on the TransAsia Airways Flight 222, that crashed in a residential area in Makung City, the capital of Penghu Islands. The New York Times reported:

"Dozens Die in Plane Crash in Taiwan Storm", New York Times, Ju;y 23, 2014:

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Dozens of people aboard a plane flying to a Taiwanese island were killed on Wednesday when the aircraft crashed in bad weather during an emergency landing, Taiwan’s Transportation Ministry said.

The TransAsia Airways twin turboprop was flying from the southern Taiwan city of Kaohsiung, on the main island, to Magong on the Penghu Islands in rain and heavy winds as Typhoon Matmo passed through the region. Gusts approaching 40 miles per hour were reported.

The Transportation Ministry said late Wednesday that 47 people had been killed and 11 injured when Flight 222, an ATR 72, crashed into residential buildings in a village near Magong and caught fire.

A man stares at the plane wreckage (via Business Insider AU, more images).

At the end the TransAsia crash completely overshadowed Matmo's damage across Taiwan, the whole world was looking at Penghu for a few days. This plane crash started Taiwan's most catastrophic year.

2015 | SOUDELOR | 蘇迪羅

Soudelor was the strongest and most devastating typhoon to hit Taiwan since 2009's Morakot (and incidentally, both made landfall on 8.8.). It was also the worst typhoon that I have personally experienced (read about my experience). Soudelor left a big mark on Taiwan mainly because of extreme winds, that caused a lot of damage. Here's a media report about it:

"Typhoon Soudelor generates near record gusts in Taipei", WCT, 9 Aug, 2015:

The gusts generated by Typhoon Soudelor in Taipei were the second strongest in recorded history in Taiwan's capital, the country's Central Weather Bureau said Saturday. The Taipei weather station registered level 13 winds on the Beaufort Scale, representing wind speeds of 133 to 149 kilometers per hour, at 5:25 am, the bureau said. That was second only to level 14 winds (representing wind speeds of 150 kph to 166 kph) recorded at the Taipei station in 1996, when Typhoon Herb pounded Taiwan, it said. Typhoon Soudelor brought gusty winds and dumped torrential rains on Taiwan as it swept through the island, causing widespread damage. As of 3 pm Saturday, a total of 2,079 toppled trees were reported in Taipei, the city government said. The number only included reported cases and the actual number could be higher and may be the most ever seen in the city, it said.

This video shows the power of typhoon Soudelor: He made an airplane move.

This video of a tornado near Tainan, that lifted up a car went viral across the world. The tornado was a by-product of typhoon Soudelor.

Another curiosity, that gained worldwide attention were two mailboxes, that were bent during the typhoon. People flocked to them in masses to take photos with them, so that the Post decided to relocate them, because the road was constantly blocked. Images like these were circling around social media:

A photo posted by Angel Huang (@angel20739) on

For many people typhoon Soudelor was anything but cute: 4.8 million people were without electricity at one point (the highest ever recorded number), lots of trees were broken, houses damaged, and rivers were overflowing. The water in Taipei was dirty for several days after Soudelor left (speaking from own experience), and the popular hot spring resort Wulai was nearly completely destroyed. Soudelor broke another record: The damper in Taipei 101, Taiwan's highest building, moved a full meter from his central position due to strong winds, this was the biggest movement in its history (it was built in 2004). I hope we won't see anything like Soudelor for a long while.

The verdict

Here's my Top 10 list of typhoons that had the most impact on Taiwan between the years 2000 and 2015. The pick is based on various factors (such as wind speed, rain, damage, and lost human life), and partly on personal opinion.

01. MORAKOT, 2009
02. NARI, 2001
03. TORAJI, 2001
04. SOUDELOR, 2015
05. FANAPI, 2010
06. BILIS, 2000
07. NANMADOL, 2011
08. SAOLA, 2012
09. MATMO, 2014
10. HAITANG, 2005

What is your experience? Drop a comment on my Facebook Page or Twitter.