Travel Risk Analysis: Typhoon Hagibis – Impact Assessment and Short-Term Outlook

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  • On the weekend of 12 October, Typhoon Hagibis made landfall on the main Japanese island of Honshu, causing widespread flooding, displacement and loss of life.

  • The storm system, which is the strongest to hit the Kantō region since 1958, has continued to cause air, rail and road transport disruption, as well as the loss of electricity and water supply to many regions.

  • The government is now taking steps to repair the damage and restore services to affected areas, however many towns and cities are likely to continue to face disruption for weeks to come.

  • Travellers have been provided with a summary of the worst-affected areas as well as a list of in-country resources to seek assistance and advice.

How Typhoon Hagibis developed in Japan

Typhoon Hagibis made landfall in Japan at around 1900hrs local time (1000 UTC) on Saturday, 12 October. The storm system then travelled from the Izu Peninsula, south-west of Tokyo on the main island of Honshu, before moving northwards along the country’s eastern coastline. After striking Ichihara City, the typhoon moved through the Kantō region, heavily impacting Tokyo and causing widespread destruction in the town of Hakone, before passing through the central prefecture of Nagano, which witnessed the worst levels of overland flooding the country has seen in half a century. A total of 73 people have been confirmed dead, whilst 16 are still missing. A number of these casualties occurred in Chiba Prefecture where a 5.7 magnitude earthquake occurred off the coast around half an hour before Hagibis made landfall.

According to the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre (JTWC), Hagibis began to form on 2 October, roughly 300 miles north of the Marshall Islands, prompting the organisation to issue a Tropical Cyclone Formation Alert. Over the next few days, the depression began to rapidly intensify as it moved westward, until it developed a pinhole eye and was reclassified as a Category 5-equivalent super typhoon using the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. Readings from weather stations near the Mariana Islands suggest that the storm system reached one-minute sustained wind speeds of 260 kilometres/hour (160 miles per hour) and a central pressure of 915 hPa. On 8 October, the newly names Typhoon Hagibis began to move north, directly towards the south-eastern coast of Japan, prompting the nation’s weather service to issue warnings and evacuation alerts for provinces and metropolitan areas in central and eastern Honshu. By the time the storm system made landfall, it had been downgraded to a category-4, before being re-assessed as a category-5 after an eyewall replacement cycle, ultimately making it the strongest storm to hit the Kantō region of mainland Japan since Typhoon Ida/Kanogawa in 1958.

Hagibis is the nineteenth named storm and ninth typhoon to be recorded during the 2019 Pacific typhoon season, which typically runs from July to October. It also made landfall only one month after Typhoon Faxai struck the same region, which has resulted in setbacks to repairs and clean-up operations which were being carried out in the wake of the first storm system. Both typhoons directly impacted the Greater Tokyo Area, which is home to the nation’s capital and is ranked as the most populous metropolitan area in the world, although rural communities and smaller rural towns have typically been worst affected. A total of 47 major rivers burst their banks in 66 different locations, as heavy rainfall and overland run-off put unsustainable pressure on bridges, levies and watercourses, causing many settlements to become submerged. Mountainous areas have also witnessed severe mudslides, as the ground quickly became saturated and prone to subsidence. Over one metre (three feet) of rainfall was recorded over a 48-hour period in the town of Hakone on Friday and Saturday, which is believed to be highest reported level since records began.

An exhaustive list of the provinces and prefectures directly impacted by Typhoon Hagibis is provided below:

  • The Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area

  • Ibaraki Prefecture (badly affected due to breach of the Naka, Chikuma and Kuji Rivers, particularly the cities of Naka, Nagano and Hitachiomiya)

  • Tochigi Prefecture (badly affected due to overland flow of floodwaters in urban areas)

  • Gunma Prefecture (badly affected due to general overland flooding and landslides)

  • Saitama Prefecture (badly affected due to breach of the Toki and Oppe Rivers, particularly Higashimatsuyama and Kawagoe cities)

  • Chiba Prefecture

  • Kanagawa Prefecture

  • Shizuoka Prefecture

  • Yamanashi Prefecture

  • Nagano Prefecture (badly affected due to general overland flooding and landslides)

  • Aichi Prefecture

  • Gifu Prefecture

  • Mie Prefecture

  • Shiga Prefecture

  • Kyoto Prefecture

  • Osaka Prefecture

  • Hyogo

  • Nara Prefecture

  • Wakayama Prefecture

  • Miyagi Prefecture (badly affected due to breach of the Yoshida River, particularly Osato Town)

  • Fukushima Prefecture (badly affected due to breach of the Abukuma River, particularly Sukagawa City)

What’s the human impact? And what can I do to mitigate risk?

In the days and hours prior to Hagibis making landfall, the Japanese media, government departments and the National Meteorological Agency went to great efforts to emphasise the predicted impact of the category-5 storm. As a result, many residents chose to stock up on provisions before the typhoon’s arrival, leaving supermarkets and shops with little remaining stock. A total of seven million people, across 11 different prefectures, were advised to leave their homes and seek emergency shelter by local authorities, although in many cases residents chose to ignore these warnings. Subsequently, regional disaster relief organisations have reported that only around 230,000 individuals stayed in temporary shelters over the weekend.

As a precaution, Japan Rail, Japan Airlines, Nippon Airways and most local rail and bus transport companies suspended services across the Kantō region on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The operators of seven dams across the country also took the unprecedented step of discharging water due to the risk of overflowing, which left some communities without fresh water and electricity. Traffic and metro lines in central Tokyo came to a standstill on Saturday, whilst key international sporting fixtures in Kumamoto and Kamaishi were cancelled. In general, the Tokyo metropolitan area saw minimal infrastructural damage, despite lying in the storm’s path. This is largely due to the city’s sophisticated flood control system which is based around a network of underground drainage channels designed to draw flood waters away from businesses, homes and streets.

A total of 73 people are thought to have died as a direct result of Typhoon Hagibis, most of whom were buried in mudslides or washed away by flood waters. According to government sources, over 200 are also being treated for serious injuries, whilst 16 are still missing pending an ongoing search by thousands of personnel from the Self-Defence Forces, Coast Guard, police and fire departments. Over 12,000 homes have also been directly affected by the floodwaters, whilst many more still without electricity and running water. Most of these are located in Nagano Prefecture in the centre of Honshu, where both the Chikuma and Abukuma rivers overflowed, destroying a five-kilometre stretch of urban development. According to data collected by the national NHK network, around 900 houses were completely destroyed over the weekend, whilst water rose above the ground floor level in 7,907 homes across 16 different prefectures.

The timing of the typhoon has also heavily impacted agricultural activity, as seasonal harvests have been disrupted, and in many cases produce has been destroyed. In Saitama Prefecture, rice and flower farmers have recorded significant losses, as flood waters have destroyed fields and submerging warehouses full of produce. Vehicles, processing plants and other agricultural and manufacturing equipment has also been destroyed, setting back local industries.

Outlook and impact on the Japanese risk and security climate

On Tuesday, 15 October, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, announced in a session of the Upper House Budget Committee, that his government is planning to designate Typhoon Hagibis as a “severe natural disaster,” in order to increase the availability of state subsidies for reconstruction work. The government has also acknowledged that the storm is likely to have a “prolonged impact on peoples’ daily lives and economic activities” over the coming weeks and months. Currently, efforts are being directed at restoring water and electricity supplies to homes and businesses in 315 affected municipalities, although no official timescale has been given for the restoration of these amenities. As of Tuesday, 15 October, over 5,000 people are still unable to return to their homes, and clean-up operations are likely to take weeks and even months in the worst affected areas.

Although significant air travel routes and long-distance rail links have been restored to normal operation across the Kantō region, many local bus and train services in the worse affected prefectures will likely continued to face delays and service cancellations for weeks due to infrastructural damage. According to a spokesperson for the East Japan Railway Company, one-third of its bullet trains which run on the Hokuriku-Shinkansen line have been damaged by flooding, and there is currently “no prospect for the time being of fully resuming services to Hokuriku”. Many roads and expressways have also been badly damaged, severely restricting overland travel in Tochigi, Nagano, Fukushima, Gunma and Saitama prefectures. Travellers in the worst affected areas of central Japan are advised to monitor announcements by local authorities and anticipate disruptions to domestic water and electricity supplies for up to another week.

The following resources are currently available to English-speaking travellers and personnel located in affected regions of Japan:

  • The National Tourism Organisation operates telephone hotlines around the clock in English, Chinese and Korean. The number is 050-3816-2787. Operators can provide information on safe places of refuge and advice on contacting missing persons.

  • The Japanese National Tourism Organisation’s webpage on Typhoon Hagibis includes emergency medical support resources and links to travel updates in English from airlines and railway authorities.

  • The Japan Tourism Agency’s multi-language disaster app provides safety tips and travel advice.

  • The Japan Safe Travel (JST) Twitter page relays key announcements by local and national authorities in both English and Japanese.