At least 2 killed and 260,000 left without power after Typhoon Nanmadol batters Japan
- Nanmadol is the 14th and largest storm in this year’s typhoon season so far. It is also the 5th strongest storm to hit Japan since records began
- Over 9.5 million people were asked to evacuate as early as Saturday as the storm approached Kyushu, bringing torrential rain and surges
Kyodo News said at least two people had been killed. About 260,000 homes were left without power around noon on Monday in Kyushu, according to a website of Kyushu Electric Power Transmission & Distribution.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to delay a planned trip to New York for a session of the United Nations General Assembly by about a day, and is looking to depart Tuesday morning after assessing the damage situation.
The Japan Meteorological Agency has reported gusts of wind as strong as 234km/h and sustained winds of around 150km/h. The storm is the most powerful recorded in the world so far this year and the fifth-strongest to make landfall in Japan since accurate records first began.
Residents of low-lying and coastal areas of Kyushu, which has a population of around 13 million, were instructed to evacuate to emergency shelters at higher elevations and to take cover in sturdy buildings, with the authorities warning that traditional wooden homes may not withstand the elements.
In addition to the high waves that have been battering coastal communities, rivers swollen by rainfall have become raging torrents and flooded towns and villages on their banks.
In 24 hours from midday on Saturday, officials in the town of Misato, in Miyazaki Prefecture, recorded nearly 90cm of rain, more than the average for the entire September.
Late on Monday morning, authorities downgraded the emergency heavy rain warning for Miyazaki Prefecture, which along with Kagoshima has arguably borne the brunt of the weather onslaught so far, but has issued new warnings for flooding and landslides.
In the past, typhoons in the mountainous southern reaches of Japan have been accompanied by landslides as heavy rain destabilises hillsides, making them prone to slipping.
Tens of thousands of homes across the south of the country have lost power, with efforts to reconnect damaged power lines suspended in some areas because of the danger to personnel.
Ferry services to outlying islands have also been halted, along with bullet train services across much of southern Japan and hundreds of domestic flights.
Residents of southern prefectures have been describing their experiences on social media, with one person in Kochi Prefecture on Shikoku Island reporting torrential rain and powerful winds all night.
“Unable to sleep properly as the rain lashes against the shutters constantly,” the poster wrote on the Japan Today website. “The strangest thing, the wind and rain stop and start, [with] calm and silence and then chaos and deluge.”
A message posted on the Weather News web page said the storm was approaching Hyogo Prefecture, directly to the west of the major urban conurbation of Osaka and Kobe and warned, “This typhoon is really dangerous.
“We have to be on maximum alert for heavy rain and storm surges in coastal areas,” the message read. “This typhoon is already quite unusual in its power, so we must all act with the utmost caution.”
Another netizen from Oita Prefecture in Kyushu said that his home had never sustained any damage in the 50 years since he built it, but Typhoon Nanmadol has been “different”.
“This time, the front door was ripped off and windows were broken,” he said. “I was soaked in the middle of the night as I got sheets of wood out of storage and nailed them across the front door and wiped up the soaking wet mess.
“The power went out and I am so glad that I bought water and food,” he added. “To be honest, I think this typhoon is the strongest in history [in Japan]. To those who live in areas where typhoons are expected, be prepared for anything.”
The weather system is presently moving at a speed of 20km/h over Yamaguchi Prefecture, with the meteorological agency estimating that it will track to the north-east over the next two days, skirting the prefectures of Shimane and Kyoto before crossing Honshu and weakening as it passes back out into the Pacific Ocean.
The agency warns that the typhoon will continue to bring heavy rain, strong winds and powerful tidal surges and is warning residents to take precautions.
And although the storm is causing widespread damage, it does appear that Japan has escaped a worst-case scenario, which is based on Typhoon Muroto, which struck in September 1934.
That disaster killed 3,066 people, injured another 13,000 and destroyed the homes of more than 200,000 people.
Nanmadol is the 14th and largest storm in this year’s typhoon season so far. Climate experts warn that climate change is increasing the frequency and destructive power of such weather systems.
Super-typhoons do not typically move beyond the 28 North parallel, meaning that no very large storm has been recorded hitting mainland Japan.
In 30 years, however, climate models anticipate that water temperatures in the Western Pacific could rise by 3 degrees Celsius, making it possible for a super-typhoon to menace Japan.
As recently as 2018, a study concluded that a super-typhoon accompanied by a powerful storm surge in Tokyo Bay could overwhelm the city’s extensive flood defences and cause 8,000 deaths and damage estimated at 115 trillion yen (US$803 billion).
Additional reporting by Kyodo