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Bullet train-like windspeeds, record high tidal waves feared with Typhoon Haishen

Waves are seen hitting the coast of the southwestern Japan city of Nichinan, Miyazaki Prefecture, on Sept. 5, 2020. (Mainichi/Takashi Kamiiriki)
Tide barriers are seen set up in front of a store in the southwestern Japan city of Nagasaki in preparation for Typhoon Haishen, on Sept. 5, 2020. (Mainichi/Yosuke Kadota)

TOKYO -- Typhoon Haishen is feared to bring gusts up to Shinkansen bullet train speeds, and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) is calling for maximum alert against the 10th tropical storm of the year as it travels north toward southwest Japan.

    As the typhoon is forecast to develop into one requiring a special warning, people in areas likely to be affected are rushing to prepare for the storm.

    The JMA predicts that Typhoon Haishen's maximum gust speed will reach 306 kilometers per hour when it approaches waters near the Amami Islands off southwestern Japan's Kyushu region. If the maximum gust tops 288 kph, it will be the first since Typhoon Dujuan that lashed Yonaguni Island in Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa in 2015 with gusts of up to around 292 kph.

    If a typhoon's average windspeed exceeds 144 kph, some houses may be knocked down. In the 2006 gusts that hit the town of Saroma in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, the maximum gust speed apparently reached nearly 299 kph, blowing at least one person about 50 meters away, according to a witness account.

    As Typhoon Haishen is expected to pack maximum gusts of 306 kph, it is feared to become a storm with unimaginable intensity that could send objects flying at the same speed as Shinkansen bullet trains.

    Caution against high tidal waves is also necessary when a powerful typhoon approaches. Tidal levels rise when seawater is blown toward coastlines from offshore by strong winds and a low pressure system brought by a typhoon pulls up the ocean surface. When Typhoon Jebi lashed western Japan in September 2018, Kansai International Airport in Osaka was flooded due to record-high tidal waves.

    In preparation for Typhoon Haishen, Kyushu Railway Co. (JR Kyushu) announced that it may plan on suspension of train services on the Kyushu Shinkansen Line and local lines on Sept. 6 and 7. The typhoon is also feared to wreak havoc on public transport systems in wide areas across Kyushu. Many schools in Kyushu have also decided to close for the day on Sept. 7.

    The JMA and various disaster prevention organizations are calling for residents to evacuate early and make preparations ahead of the typhoon's approach.

    When a typhoon brings strong winds of at least 72 kph, one cannot keep standing without holding on to something stable, so the JMA normally issues a windstorm warning several hours before the windspeed nears 72 kph. As it may already become dangerous to go outside by the time a windstorm warning has been issued, the JMA advises people to evacuate in accordance with evacuation information distributed by local authorities.

    Amid the spread of the coronavirus, people also need to take heed to infection prevention at evacuation centers.

    The Japan Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (JVOAD) introduces on its website advisable preparations against heavy rains and typhoons amid the coronavirus crisis. The nonprofit group recommends people to make sure that they have stocks of food and daily supplies no later than the day before possible disasters, as well as storing water in a bath tub in preparation for possible water stoppages, charging smartphones and computers for potential power outages, and fueling vehicles. The group also advises people to check various methods for gathering information and make use of radios and smartphones to collect info.

    Tetsuya Myojo, secretary-general of JVOAD, commented, "As virus infections spread, it is necessary to think about when and where to evacuate depending on the circumstances faced by each individual." He also urged families with pregnant women and young children and people with underlying diseases to evacuate to relatives' homes and use accommodation facilities depending on the situation.

    (Japanese original by Keiko Yamaguchi and Akira Iida, Kyushu News Department, and Junko Adachi, Kagoshima Bureau)

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