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The speed of nature

The destructive power of Typhoon Haiyan

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage students to consider their powerlessness in the face of natural forces (SEAL theme: Self-awareness).

Preparation and materials

  • Choose a reader.
  • The Disasters Emergency Committee can be found at


Leader:Today I want to consider speed. For instance, what’s the maximum speed limit for an ordinary car on a Motorway in the UK?

Reader: That’s easy. It’s 70 miles per hour.

Leader:How about the speed of an inter-city train?

Reader: Much faster. We’re now talking about speeds of up to 125 miles per hour.

Leader: Let’s move on to the Grand Prix track. What sort of speeds do you get on the straight from a Formula 1 racing car?

Reader:Now we’re really talking speed! They can go at over 200 miles per hour.

Leader: I want you to imagine that something travelling at the top speed of a Formula 1 racing car hit your house. Think of the impact. Think of the damage it would cause. Think of the consequences if it carried on into the house next door, into the next street, through the town and out across country, never stopping its destructive passage.


That was the experience of people who lived in the coastal town of Tacloban, the capital of Leyte Province in the Philippines, last Friday. Typhoon Haiyan hit the town with the force of a Formula 1 racing car that was 370 miles wide. Homes were flattened by gusts of up to 235 miles per hour. Large ships were lifted by the waves that followed and dropped on to the shore itself. Up to 10,000 people are feared dead in this one town alone. There is no clean water, no electricity and very little food. Some residents are so desperate they’ve started looting the ruins of shops so that they can eat and drink.

Perhaps you and your families have already responded to the requests for emergency aid. It’s very easy to find the addresses on the internet.

(See Disasters Emergency Committee website address above.)

I hope your thoughts and prayers are with ordinary men, women, boys and girls like us whose lives have been shattered. It helps put things in perspective about this planet on which we live. Britain is a favourable place to have been born. It’s not too hot and not too cold. There’s enough rain for water never to be a problem and enough sun to ripen the crops, even in a poor year. We don’t suffer major earthquakes or tropical storms. There haven’t been any significant forest fires. We can rest easy and watch the rest of the world cope with the consequences. But let’s have a think.

Time for reflection

When we consider the sheer power of a natural phenomenon such as this typhoon, it puts things in perspective. There’s absolutely nothing anyone could do to resist the wind and the waves of the super typhoon Haiyan. Strong buildings were blown down and high walls breached. The writer of a series of songs in the Bible that we call the Psalms put it like this: when we look at natural phenomena such as the stars, the sun, the wind, and so on, we are reduced to thinking, ‘How little I am in it all.’ We try to harness the power of the sun, wind and waves but we can’t tame them. We can’t build structures that can resist the most powerful earthquakes, storms and floods. We’re good . . . but not that good. We’re powerful . . . but not that powerful. 

It seems that new records are being created every year for the strongest wind, the coldest temperature, the worst forest fire, the deepest floods, the most unusual weather patterns. It’s hard to resist the claims that our use of this planet’s resources is somehow having an effect on what happens. Maybe the strength of the typhoon in the Philippines is somehow, if distantly, related to the food we eat, the fuel we use, the waste we dump. It might be helpful for us to think about how our actions could personally affect someone elsewhere in the world. If it motivates us to be a little more thoughtful in our actions, then it might not be a bad thing. 

Ours is a global village. Since our life is linked to the lives of millions of others across the globe, let’s turn our thoughts into actions. 

Dear Lord,
Thank you for the relative safety of where we live.
We accept that this gives us a responsibility.
May we use our stability and wealth to assist directly those suffering at this moment.


‘Storm Front’ by Billy Joel (the song uses a storm as a metaphor but the chorus is directly relevant)

Publication date: November 2013   (Vol.15 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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