Japan, which gets hit by an average of three typhoons annually, is no stranger to the powerful tropical storms. However, Typhoon Hagibis, which made landfall in the Shizuoka Prefecture at about 7:00 pm local time on October 12, 2019, is the worst storm experienced by the island nation in almost 60 years. Dropping as much as 35 inches of rain in some areas, it caused massive landslides, flooded rivers, and damaged homes and businesses in eight of Japan's 47 prefectures.
The Fukushima prefecture, an agricultural area in the Tōhoku region, was the worst hit with the Abukuma River's levees bursting in at least 14 places. Residents say the water rose rapidly to chest height within an hour, making it difficult to escape to higher ground. Sixty-eight-year-old Yoshinagi Higuchi, whose house was flooded by the overflowing river, says, "I heard there was a flood once before the war, but we just weren't expecting the water to come over the levee despite all the warnings."
Nagano city in central Japan, was also severely impacted after an embankment along the Chikuma River collapsed, flooding homes and buildings. Tens of thousands of military personnel had to be sent to rescue the stranded residents trapped by water and mud. Over 376,000 Japanese residents across the country lost power during the storm, and, as of Tuesday, October 14, 2019, 24,000 homes still remained in the dark, while 138,000 families had no water. The storm claimed 77 lives, and rescuers are losing hope for the ten still listed missing. The thousands that remain in shelters have no idea when they will be allowed to return home and what they will find when they get there.
The clean-up efforts, which began in earnest on Thursday, October 17, 2019, may be hampered by more torrential rain that is forecast to hit already-inundated areas in the coming days. Officials are worried that the additional water will further weaken storm walls along the already over-full rivers, leading to more mudslides and devastation. The large numbers of ruined appliances, cars, plastic bottles, and other waste generated by Hagibis are also of concern, and could take multiple years to dispose of properly.
The full extent of the damage will not be known for a few weeks or even months. However, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has allocated $4.6 billion to the cleanup and rebuilding efforts, has promised the government will do everything possible to help Hagibis victims get back on their feet.
Typhoons, or taifus in Japanese, are similar to the hurricanes that form over the Atlantic Ocean. However, they occur more frequently due to the favorable conditions provided by the warmer Pacific Ocean waters. Though the storms, which carry moisture from the tropics, are legendary for the large amounts of rain they bring, the amount Hagibis dumped was extraordinary. Experts attribute the storm's intensity to a rapid pressure drop caused by the warm waters off the Mariana Islands, which fed significantly more moisture to the already large typhoon. Also a factor was the typhoon's slow, 30kph, pace, which allowed it to linger over land for a longer period and dump record-breaking rainfall in many places.
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