One day last week aboard the Empress of Japan, placidly ploughing across the China Sea to Hongkong, Commonwealth-President Manuel Quezon of the Philippines began to receive a steady stream of wireless reports. Before the day was out he had proclaimed a "state of calamity," had issued a decree appropriating $500,000 from the Commonwealth's scanty treasury for emergency relief. A South Pacific typhoon had just caused one of the worst catastrophes in Philippine history.

Connoisseurs of typhoons, the Filipinos thought little of it when one of these lethal storms whipped straight across the...

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