Typhoon Hagibis hits Japan: What you need to know

Motoko Rich and Ben Dooley, The New York Times

Posted at Oct 14 2019 08:52 AM

Typhoon Hagibis hits Japan: What you need to know 1
Rescue workers carry a rubber dinghy as they search a flooded area in the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis, which caused severe floods at the Chikuma River in Nagano Prefecture, Japan, Oct. 14, 2019. Kim Kyung-Hoon, Reuters

TOKYO — Japan woke Sunday morning to flooded rivers and burst levees, as emergency workers used helicopters and boats to rescue stranded residents from their homes in the wake of Typhoon Hagibis, the largest storm to hit the country in decades.

Rain began falling Saturday and continued through Sunday morning, testing dams, pulling down hillsides, destroying roads and bridges, and driving rivers over their banks.


Typhoon Hagibis hits Japan: What you need to know 2
Elderly people, rescued from a nursing home that was flooded by Typhoon Hagibis, wait at Kujirai Middle School to be transferred to other facilities, in Kawagoe, Japan, Oct. 13, 2019. Japan, which prides itself on its robust infrastructure and disaster preparedness, was humbled by the hard hit that hurt even major metropolitan areas. Ko Sasaki, The New York Times

Anticipating extensive damage, the authorities urged nearly 6 million people to evacuate.

Rescue services jumped into action early in the morning, with helicopters plucking stranded people from balconies and roofs. At least 35 people were killed, with 15 people reported missing and at least 100 injured, according to the Kyodo news agency. Deaths were expected to mount as swollen rivers rushed through flooded neighborhoods.

More than 370,000 households were without power, and at least 15,000 homes were without water, Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary, told reporters, adding that the country was taking every measure to recover.

At least two deaths and several landslides occurred before the typhoon made landfall, and a 5.7-magnitude earthquake shook Chiba, east of Tokyo, on Saturday evening just before the storm hit.


Typhoon Hagibis hits Japan: What you need to know 3
Residents are rescued by Japanese Defence-Force soldiers from a flooded area caused by Typhoon Hagibis in Kakuda, Miyagi prefecture, Japan, Oct. 13, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Kyodo/via Reuters

At least 142 rivers flooded, NHK said, after record-breaking rains. In Nagano prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, a levee burst on the Chikuma River, flooding a wide area of Nagano City.

Levees on 21 rivers across the flood zone collapsed, according to NHK and information provided by local governments.

At least 27,000 rescue workers raced to evacuate people from the flood zones, where water reached up to buildings’ second stories and strong currents swept through the streets. NHK showed images of an effort to rescue hundreds of people stranded at an elder-care center in Saitama, a suburban area north of Tokyo. Television announcers urged people trapped in their homes to put up pieces of fabric as a signal to rescuers.


In Fukushima prefecture, where a huge earthquake and tsunami caused the Daiichi nuclear power plant to melt down in 2011, a burst levee flooded the banks of the Abukuma River after heavy rains.

Separately, Tokyo Electric Power said it was inspecting the nuclear plant for damage from the heavy rains.

In the city of Tamura, floodwaters displaced huge bags containing contaminated waste gathered during the cleanup of areas around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Kyodo News reported. A river washed away an unknown number of the bags, which were in a temporary storage area, it said.

The contents of the bags, which hold up to 1.3 tons, were unclear, but they are most likely filled with irradiated topsoil and other refuse from the cleanup that followed the meltdown. Ten of the bags were recovered undamaged, Kyodo News said, and the authorities are cataloging the remaining ones to see how many were still missing.


After a day of heavy rains, the storm made landfall around 7 p.m. Saturday local time, in the resort town of Ito, southwest of Tokyo. It struck the capital directly, lashing the surrounding areas with heavy rains and winds of up to 130 mph, before moving north.

The authorities had expected Hagibis to rival the Kanogawa typhoon of 1958, which killed more than 1,200 people in Shizuoka prefecture and the Tokyo region. Days before the storm hit, officials were urging people to get ready to evacuate.

On Saturday, the authorities issued a rare highest-level warning of extreme rain in 12 prefectures, including Saitama and Shizuoka, advising residents to evacuate or move to higher floors in the “nearest sturdy building” in order to avoid “imminent danger.” All the alerts had been lifted by Sunday morning.


On Saturday, the authorities canceled flights across the country, Japan railways suspended service in the Tokyo region, and bullet trains between Tokyo and Osaka were suspended.

Rugby World Cup organizers canceled two matches Saturday and a third match Sunday. Businesses, grocery stores, restaurants and the country’s 24-hour convenience stores — which almost never shut their doors — closed en masse, leaving the normally bustling streets of Tokyo’s busiest neighborhoods largely empty.

Some businesses planned to remain closed Sunday as road closings across the country’s central and northern regions disrupted deliveries.

Some flights and trains had resumed service Sunday morning. But many Japan Railways routes continued to be suspended as operators assessed the damage, the company said. Images from NHK showed a number of bullet trains submerged up to their windows.

Hagibis followed another strong typhoon, Faxai, which hit Japan last month, causing heavy damage in Chiba prefecture.


In Chiba, residents just recovering from Faxai were hit by a tornado and earthquake, on top of the super typhoon.

In Ichihara City, debris caused by Hagibis piled up next to refuse from the previous storm. Hideto Ata, a 62-year-old farmer, surveyed the ruins of his crops. The tornado that accompanied the storm had ripped the roof off a nearby house and dragged it across his fields, uprooting tomatoes, bell peppers and eggplants.

“The devastation is huge, especially because it’s the second natural disaster in a short time,” he said. “Just when I thought everyone in the neighborhood was recovered from the last typhoon, a tornado comes along.”

Nearby, the retiree Teruo Ao, 80, put on a brave face as he stood next to his home, where the tornado had shredded part of his roof and a second-floor balcony, and left a twisted pile of metal in the garden.

“I’m just glad my family was safe and unhurt,” he said.

In Saitama, the Oppegawa River was swollen with muddy water Sunday morning. Some neighborhoods near the riverbanks had flooded and nearby residents walked or rode bikes to view the flooding. One street in Sakado-shi- Akao was impassable but had a pristine view of Mount Fuji in the distance under a clear blue sky.

Kenichi Nakajima, 58, a farmer, had driven over a bridge to see the flooding close to a friend’s house. “They can’t get out of their houses; it’s such a pity,” he said. “We don’t have supermarkets around here. We have to go far to a big supermarket. But without a car, we can’t go shopping as the cars are flooded.”

The scale of the damage was “abnormal,” Nakajima said, suggesting global warming was responsible.

“Recently, a girl made a speech about global warming, and as she was crying she said, ‘We have no future,’” he said, referring to the climate activist Greta Thunberg.

“She is absolutely right.”

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