American bases near Tokyo escape deadly Typhoon Hagibis with minimal damage
By CAITLIN DOORNBOS, HANA KUSUMOTO AND SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 12, 2019
TOKYO — Typhoon Hagibis pummeled the Japanese capital overnight Saturday with wind gusts as high as 104 mph, hours of record-breaking torrential rain and flooding in some places.
And then suddenly the storm left the Tokyo metro area, leaving many to wonder on social media if the ordeal was really over. Sunday dawned beneath calm, blue skies as the curious emerged to take stock of fallen trees and swollen rivers.
U.S. military bases in the area reported minimal damage and returned to their routines after a full day hunkered down against record-breaking rain and strong wind.
At Yokota Air Base — home of U.S Forces Japan in western Tokyo — Senior Airman Mitchell Krause, 24, of Chaska, Minn., was shopping at a base mini-mart early Sunday. The security forces airman said he worked the night shift during the storm but experienced no emergencies.
“I didn’t really think it was that bad,” he said, adding that he hadn’t heard much wind.
But in harder-hit regions like Nagano and Miyagi prefectures, helicopters plucked people from their flooded homes on Sunday as rescue efforts went into full force from a powerful storm that left at least 12 dead and 13 missing, according to Fuji TV. More than 100 people were also injured in its wake, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Hundreds of thousands of households were without power around Tokyo and in the Tohoku region north of the metro area Sunday, according to The Associated Press.
“We intend to exert all-out efforts for the earliest recovery of blackouts, water outage and suspension of transportation,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said during a ministerial meeting Sunday.
He added that 2,700 Self-Defense Forces personnel, along with police, firefighters and the Japan Coast Guard, were conducting rescue and relief efforts Sunday.
In Hachioji — not far from Yokota and Camp Zama — about 16 inches of rain fell over 24 hours Friday, topping a 1999 record rainfall of 14 inches, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. In Hakone, southwest of Yokohama, a record 37 inches fell, the agency reported.
What local fire authorities believed was a tornado struck a neighborhood in Ichihara, in Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo, on Saturday, killing one person and damaging several homes, according to The Mainchi newspaper.
And just as Hagibis approached landfall Saturday evening, a magnitude 5.3 earthquake, centered in the Pacific southeast of Tokyo, rumbled through the area around 6:20 p.m. There was no tsunami threat and no damage reported at U.S. military bases.
At Yokota, the storm brought down branches and leaves and felled a large tree in front of the 374th Airlift Wing headquarters. Airmen were busy removing it with heavy equipment before 8 a.m.
Storm conditions there suddenly ceased around 10:20 p.m. Saturday; two hours later, the base sounded the “all clear.”
In a Facebook post early Sunday, authorities announced that most facilities — including the commissary, exchange, fitness center, dining facility, theater, clubs and restaurants — would open on their normal schedules.
Base shuttles resumed at 9:20 a.m., and airport shuttles ran on schedule.
As part of recovery efforts, members of the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron planned an aerial survey of base rooftops using a small drone.
At Yokota’s Kanto Lodge, staff said 11 people who evacuated from their off-base homes due to a risk of flooding from the Tama River had stayed there overnight.
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeanette Mullinax and her girlfriend, Shannon Wilde, a visitor from Tampa, Fla., left Mullinax’s home along the Tama River in Fussa city at 7.30 p.m. Saturday, they said.
“My neighbor told me he was leaving,” Mullinax said. “A little bit later my supervisor told me to evacuate.”
Trees and nighttime dark shielded the surging river from view, they said.
“We’re pretty used to hurricanes in Florida, but it was interesting that there was such a big one here,” Wilde said as the pair relaxed in the hotel lobby Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, residents of Fussa and neighboring Hamura walked the levee path along the river, photographing the waves of foaming brown water that shouldered their way downstream.
That section of the river, which flows into Tokyo Bay, appeared to have remained in its channel overnight, but farther downstream it overran its banks and flooded homes and roads in Setagaya ward and Kawasaki city.
‘It’s still as messy’
At Yokosuka Naval Base, south of Tokyo and close to where Hagibis made landfall, the memory of Typhoon Faxai in September is still fresh. This time, the damage was not as severe.
Sunday morning cleanup crews tied caution tape around downed fences, fallen trees and leaning power poles. They filled truck beds with tree branches strewn about base by the powerful winds.
No injuries were reported there, according to Yokosuka spokesman Randall Baucom.
“The base did not receive any significant damage, although assessments are ongoing,” he added in an email Sunday morning. “Our focus now is on getting base services back to normal operations.”
The commissary, galley and gyms reopened by 9:30 a.m., according to a post on the base’s official Facebook page. The Liberty Center, bowling alley and food court were back in service by noon.
At about 9 a.m., sailors and their families were seen meandering around base, checking out storm damage.
Along the base’s eastern edge, Seamen Hannibal Mendez and Brandon Cook, both of the USS Blue Ridge, examined piles of debris blown in from the ocean.
“It doesn’t seem as bad [as Faxai] but it’s still as messy,” Mendez said. “I expect a lot out of them, but I guess a divine being was looking out for us.”
“Yeah, but we were in the ship,” Cook said, “the safest place possible.”
Many Yokosuka-based vessels were put to sea to avoid the storm or, like the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, were already deployed.
A handful undergoing maintenance or renovations stayed behind. These included the guided-missile destroyers USS John S. McCain, USS Benfold and USS Curtis Wilbur, the guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh and 7th Fleet’s command ship, the Blue Ridge.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force canceled its Monday international fleet review, which before the storm drew in navies and ships from more than 10 countries, including China. A JMSDF spokesman said the event won’t reschedule and the next one is expected to be held in 2022.
Southwest of central Tokyo, Naval Air Facility Atsugi returned Sunday morning to its routines. The commissary reopened at 10 a.m. and all services, including recreational facilities, the Navy Exchange and health clinic, were reopening for the remainder of the long weekend.
At Camp Zama in Kanagawa prefecture, U.S. Army Garrison Japan issued its “all clear” at 8:35 a.m.
In a Facebook post, Zama officials said teams were still “conducting final assessments, but we appear to have seen minor damage overnight.”
The outdoor recreation center, golf course, fitness center, dining facility and Sagamihara Family Housing Area Commissary opened at 9 a.m. The commissary opened at 10 a.m., and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service opened at noon.
Back on track
Air and rail lines serving Tokyo came back to life Sunday after a daylong interruption. Commuter and bullet trains that were halted Saturday afternoon started to run Sunday morning.
The Tokaido shinkansen running west of Tokyo began operating Sunday but with some delays, according to Central Japan Railway.
Shinkansen operating in the Tohoku area did not run until at least noon Sunday, according to East Japan Railway.
East Japan Railway trains began operation Sunday but some trains, including the Yokosuka and Chuo lines, did not restart until noon as the company checked for damages.
Narita and Haneda international airports on Friday had canceled Saturday flights, but lifted the restriction Sunday after some trains started operating, NHK reported. However, 818 flights remain canceled Sunday, according to the report.
During the typhoon in September, thousands of people were stranded at Narita as trains and buses stopped operating.