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Typhoon Hagibis Cuts a Destructive Path through Japan

The storm caused deaths, flooding and damage. It's also a harbinger of longer, more severe seasons to come.



Japan's Self-Defense Forces respond after Typhoon Hagibis. The country, which is vulnerable to a number of natural disasters, has a sophisticated disaster management system in place. (Photo courtesy of Ministry of Defense and Self-Defense Forces)

At least 56 people are dead after Typhoon Hagibis slammed into Japan on Saturday.

Heavy rain – as much as 35 inches in some areas – caused heavy landslides, overflowing rivers, and extensive damage to eight of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Strong winds and rising seas hit the capital city of Tokyo.

About 8 million people were advised to evacuate. Nonetheless, it’s believed that stranded and injured people may be trapped in flooded structures or under debris. More than 100,000 rescuers are at work, in some cases wading through waist-high waters and digging through collapsed buildings in attempts to find survivors.

The island nation is no stranger to natural disasters. Typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have shaped Japan’s social structure and led to the development of a strong infrastructure and emergency response network. A 2011 earthquake – one of the strongest ever recorded – and tsunami killed over ten thousand people.

Although Typhoon Hagibis originally caused concern last week when it quickly morphed into a Category 5-equivalent storm, it actually hit Japan as the equivalent of a Category 2, then weakened further. The extraordinary extent of the damage was caused by the storm’s strong core and torrential rainfall.

To counter its vulnerability to natural disasters, Japan has developed sophisticated containment and emergency response measures, including a flood control system, rigorous building standards, and an active, well-coordinated disaster management system.

But the typhoon, which was both late in the season and unusually destructive, is a harbinger of longer, more severe typhoon seasons to come. As storms happen more frequently and cause more damage, the region will become increasingly vulnerable.

Japan has the resources to mitigate the effects of disasters and respond effectively when they happen. The government has not requested international assistance, and, given its capacity and level of preparedness, it is unlikely to do so.

However, other countries in east Asia and the Pacific are less equipped to confront an increased number of severe storms. For much of this region, international humanitarian assistance – both immediately after a disaster over the long term – will most likely become an increasing necessity.

Atmospheric scientists originally believed that Typhoon Hagibis might slam into the Northern Mariana islands with its full catastrophic force. Two of those islands, Saipan and Tinian, were devastated by Typhoon Yutu in 2018.

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