Monday, September 28, 2020

Seven dead, many missing as Typhoon Hagibis batters Japan

Oct 13. 2019
Vehicles lie damaged on Sunday after flooding caused by Typhoon Hagibis in Kawasaki, Japan. Photo: Getty Images
Vehicles lie damaged on Sunday after flooding caused by Typhoon Hagibis in Kawasaki, Japan. Photo: Getty Images
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By The Washington Post

High winds and record-breaking rains battered Tokyo and large swaths of central and eastern Japan on Saturday evening, leaving seven people dead and more than a dozen missing after several rivers burst their banks and landslides buried houses.

Life in the capital had ground to a halt even before Typhoon Hagibis made landfall just before 7pm on the Izu Peninsula southwest of the capital, with public transport suspended, shops shuttered and the streets empty.

The storm disrupted the Rugby World Cup, with two games just outside Tokyo cancelled, and played havoc with the buildup to Sunday’s Formula One Grand Prix in Suzuka.

For several hours, typhoon rains drenched one of the world’s most densely populated urban areas, with tens of millions of people trapped indoors watching with concern as rivers filled to dangerous levels. The government sent out high-level alarms telling people first to evacuate ‒ and then to do whatever they could to save their lives.

In the end, the storm had passed Tokyo about midnight, leaving behind branches, broken umbrellas and other debris on the streets, floodwaters in parts of the capital and much damage still being assessed.

The worst appeared to have been avoided, but the storm was still moving north and east, bringing more rain and flooding to the prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate.

The city government and five other prefectures asked the country’s Ground Self-Defence Force to help with the evacuation, rescue and recovery effort on Saturday evening.

In the midst of the storm, a magnitude 5.3 earthquake struck off the coast southeast of Tokyo, shaking buildings in the capital. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.

Nerves were set on edge in the capital on Saturday afternoon as residents’ mobile phones issued siren-style alerts warning of steadily rising risks of flooding and mudslides.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency had warned the previous day that Hagibis, which means “speed” in the Philippine language Tagalog, could bring as severe rainfall as a 1958 typhoon that killed more than 1,200 people in Tokyo and elsewhere in the country.

The storm weakened as it approached Japan but winds reached 144kph at its centre about 8.45pm, with gusts up over 193kph, making it the equivalent of a Level 1 hurricane on the US Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale. But rather than the wind, it was the rains that drenched Japan’s main island of Honshu all day that caused most concern.

The Meteorological Agency moved to a Level 5 warning for heavy rainfall on Saturday afternoon for large parts of central and eastern Japan, talking of “unprecedented rainfall” in many cities, towns and villages, predicting that disasters such as landslides and floods had probably already occurred and warning people to “take measures to protect lives”.

People who had left it too late to move to shelters were advised to relocate to a higher floor or find a nearby strong building, as the agency predicted rainfall “with a level of intensity observed only once every few decades”.

Rainfall amounts soared to over two feet in some places in just 24 hours, causing flash flooding and river flooding that could last for days, along with possible landslides.

In Hakone, Kanagawa prefecture, 94 centimetres of rain fell in 24 hours on Saturday, setting a record for that location, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. In addition, 68cm fell in heavily forested Shizuoka Prefecture southwest of Tokyo.

Downtown Tokyo received about 20cm of rain for the day, which is an unusually high amount for that location. In addition, high waves and storm surge flooding affected the coastline along and to the southeast of the storm centre. The storm itself will be gone by Sunday, as it transitions into a powerful extratropical storm destined to affect the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.

The typhoon left seven people dead, 15 missing and more than 100 people injured, according to public broadcaster NHK. The numbers were growing, underlying the damage from Hagibis.

The casualties included a man in his 50s who was killed when his car overturned in high winds in the Chiba prefecture east of Tokyo on Saturday morning and another who died after a landslide swept through six houses in the city of Tomioka. Two other people were reported missing in the same landslide, while another two were missing after a landslide in Fukushima.

Three people went missing after their car fell into a river, while another two disappeared after falling into a river and an irrigation channel, respectively.

Authorities say they were forced to begin releasing water from the Shiroyama Dam west of Tokyo at 9.30pm, adding to fears of downstream flooding along the Sagami River running through Kanagawa prefecture to the south. Meanwhile the Tama River that separates Tokyo and Kanagawa burst its banks, flooding residential areas in the southern part of the capital.

Public transport was severely disrupted on Saturday afternoon in and around the capital, with all flights to and from Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda airports cancelled and many subway services and most trains in the Tokyo metropolitan area suspended. Another 800 flights were also cancelled on Sunday, including many from Tokyo.

Shinkansen bullet trains stopped running between Tokyo and the city of Nagoya and services were disrupted all the way to Osaka and Okayama in eastern Japan. Train operators said they would inspect tracks and assess any damage on Sunday before resuming service.

Shops in and around Tokyo remained closed on Saturday or shut their doors about noon so staff could get home to beat the approaching storm. Residents had emptied the shelves of some supermarkets the previous day as people hunkered down.

Peter Hood, a US tourist visiting Japan with his wife, is staying in a hotel in the normally packed and bustling Akasaka district in central Tokyo. Except for two convenience stores and a small pizza restaurant, everything was closed by late Saturday afternoon, he said.

“The hotel lounge is full of people reading, playing cards and congregating with friends,” he said. “The rooms here, like in most Japanese hotels, are quite small and do not accommodate more than one or two people so there is no place to mingle.”

Hood said there were many rugby fans, who were particularly disappointed after two games were cancelled on Saturday and a key match ‒ between Japan and Scotland ‒ may also be called off on Sunday. “All these people would like to be out and about but with nowhere they can go,” he said.

NHK said the government had ordered 619,000 people in 10 prefectures in eastern and central Japan to evacuate their homes, while nearly 8 million had at one point been issued less strict evacuation “advisories”. In the end, most people elected to stay home and allow the storm to pass rather than make their way to shelters.

More than 430,000 households were reported to have lost power, with the prefecture of Kanagawa to the south and west of Tokyo worst affected.

Also badly hit has been Chiba, which lies to the south and east of Tokyo, a region still struggling to get back on its feet after another typhoon struck it in September, causing extensive damage and massive blackouts.

The Disneyland and DisneySea theme parks in Tokyo were also closed on Saturday.


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