Typhoon Talas Brings Tsunami-like Damage to Japan

While the English-speaking news media has been busy reporting various natural disasters in North America – such as Hurricane Irene, which resulted in a total of 55 deaths – I haven’t seen as much attention on the simultaneous devastation that’s been happening here. Typhoon 12, or “Talas,” as it’s known outside Japan, has brought what looks like another tsunami to the same coast that was ravaged on March 11. The pictures look eerily familiar, and the death toll could top 100. Talas not only shattered records, it gave an extra slap in the face to a slowly healing nation.

Lots of Rain

Talas started up about three weeks ago, and lasted until the first five days of September. The death toll rose gradually, and now stands at 59 confirmed dead, with another 50 missing. At this point, it’s likely that this means 109 dead. Most of the damage was done in the prefectures of Wakayama, Nara, and Mie, but the weather was clearly felt by most of Japan to some extent (such as a blissful cool that followed a scorching heat). Luckily, whereas the March 11 tsunami was a fast-moving and strong force of nature, Talas was a much weaker typhoon; but it was so big and so slow-moving that it didn’t dissipate for about two weeks, leaving thousands of Japanese people to feel the effects of it.

I was in Osaka during the first few days of the weather system, before it had become particularly dangerous (though Osaka was much safer than the places further South) and  it was surprising how much rain was falling. The total amount of precipitation from Talas was estimated in some places as over 2,000 mm. If this is hard to imagine, just look at the pictures.

The top of a sign-post in Mie


All though Gizmodo erroneously reported that over 450,000 people evacuated – which led thousands of others to repeat the same error – the truth is that this huge number represents how many people were warned to evacuate. I suspect it was simply a case of misreading the material, which in this instance was an article from the New York Times that Gizmodo cited at the end of their article. The real number of evacuations was closer to 3200, according to Kyodo News, among 16 different prefectures. But Gizmodo did make up for it:

“The entire East Coast [of North America] was freaking out over Hurricane Irene (and some of that freaking out was warranted) but most of us managed to escape it without any damage. Looking at the pictures though, Typhoon Talas did just as much damage (if not more) than Irene yet so few seemed to notice. It seems besides the point to prop up natural disasters and compare them to one another but it seems like the aftermath of Talas deserves a little bit more attention. Life is life.”

A destroyed bridge in Wakayama

This is Japan’s worst typhoon since Typhoon Tip in 1979 – which resulted in a total of 99 deaths. Over 3600 people were stranded by landslides, collapsed bridges, and floods, making rescue efforts that much more difficult. Around 700 houses were completely flooded, and about 10,000 households among nine prefectures experienced blackouts. Over 400 flights were canceled, leaving around 34,000 people stuck, but at least they’ll live to tell about it.


This video captures some of the aftermath. It almost looks like the cameraman is shooting piles of hay strewn about, but it’s actually wood from destroyed buildings.

People in Japan have been doing such a good job conserving energy that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry felt confident enough to end its mandatory energy-conservation requirements. But mother nature has been very unkind to Japan this year, and there are concerns now that winter will be yet another issue. According to Nikkei:

“The utility is seriously concerned about the power supply for the coming winter. Last winter, demand peaked at 51.5 gigawatts on Feb. 14. Unless the offline reactors are restarted, ‘some forms of restrictions on power use may be needed,’ said an industry observer.”

With all the weather problems we’ve been facing in the last 6 months, we all feel a bit disastered-out. We are exhausted talking about death, and the lives and homes ruined by natural phenomena that come from every angle, and kill in any location. What makes natural disasters scary is that they are painfully unpredictable. The only thing that’s predictable about them is that they will happen at some point.

There’s really nothing left to say but… please, no more disasters!

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