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Typhoon Storm Chaser in Philippines: 'It Just Went Nuclear'

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On Thursday night, Nov. 8, 2013, storm chaser Josh Morgerman found himself in a hotel in what would become ground zero for one of the biggest storms in history: Tacloban City in the Philippines. That night, he said, it was quiet -- "eerily quiet."

 

But when Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the city with winds gusting to 170 mph, he said, "It just went nuclear."
"Ours was an older hotel, which we'd chosen for its sturdy construction, and when the typhoon hit, windows exploded out of their frames, doors were completely blown out, our ears were popping. The ground floor of our hotel was flooded so quickly that guests couldn't open their doors, and people were screaming for help."

SKYE reached Morgerman by phone Sunday morning in Manila as he was about to board a flight to return to the United States. He's the founder of iCyclone, a loose collective of storm chasers so passionate about extreme weather that they risk their lives tracking it. 

On Thursday, he and three fellow American storm chasers met up in the Philippines to chase Typhoon Haiyan.
"We had no idea what we were in for," he said. "We thought, at most, it would be a Category 4 storm."
They went straight to the coastal city of Tacloban, "not knowing," he said, "that it'd be where the storm would make landfall. For a storm chaser, this was the holy grail."

Morgerman was in the hotel when the typhoon hit. Officials estimate that it roared through the city of 200,000 with sustained winds of 147 mph and gusts to 170 mph.

Morgerman would soon hear people in the hotel screaming for help.

"We helped break windows and got everyone out, thankfully," he said. "Everyone in our hotel survived."

When Morgerman emerged from the hotel to look around Tacloban, he found a city devastated by the storm.
"It was absolutely horrifying," he said. "We saw a dead pregnant woman lying in the road. That stuff doesn't leave you."
Morgerman later wrote on Facebook that communication was cut off, hospitals were overflowing with critically injured patients, and that he spent "a bleak night in a hot, pitch-black trashed hotel."

Morgerman has endured dozens of storms, including Hurricane Irene and, more recently, Typhoon Fitow. He's never seen anything like Haiyan.

"Of the more than 20 storms I've chased, this one was by far the most destructive, not just because of the wind, but because of the storm surge," he said. "The water just swept in and reduced the city to rubble."


Why does he think this typhoon caused so much death and destruction?

"Generally, in cases like this, people aren't adequately prepared; and that's either because they weren't well-informed or didn't heed the warnings," he said. "Also, it was just so strong -- the eyewall wasn't very big, but it was potent -- and it came ashore directly on a populous city, and caused a lot more destruction than if it had hit a rural area first. Finally, you also have to understand that typhoons are very common in this part of the world and people have become accustomed to them."

After the storm, Morgerman and other foreigners were evacuated by the Philippine military.

"The Tacloban airport was utterly destroyed, so they got us out in helicopters and C-150s, which are massive cargo planes, no seats, nothing," he said. "The guys who flew us out were amazing and efficient."
So how was he feeling about returning home? When he lands back home in Los Angeles, he said, he'll want to kiss the ground.

To see iCyclone's Haiyan video, check out this YouTube link. For more images, videos and stories from Josh Morgerman and his team, check out Facebook.com/icyclone andYouTube.com/cycloneJosh.

Morgerman was with the storm chaser who shot this video.

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