Typhoon Bolaven gets Okinawa excited, fizzles

As Typhoon Bolaven lumbered across the western Pacific toward Okinawa, warnings were being issued that it could be the worst typhoon to strike the island in 13 years, or more, and government agencies, the military and commercial businesses prepared for the inevitable.

What ultimately happened Sunday night through midday Monday didn’t match any of the adventure-making television scripts, with the season’s 15th typhoon spinning northward over northern Okinawa, and on to the East China Sea, leaving hardly any of the expected damage. There were power blackouts, and a few injuries, and some minor property damage, but nothing of the magnitude anticipated.

Rarely does Okinawa lock itself down in advance of an approaching storm, but Typhoon Bolaven psyched everyone into thinking this was ‘the big one’. Transportation to-and-from Okinawa ground to a halt as airlines canceled flights, grounding their planes on mainland Japan, and ferries altered their schedules to be out of the ports as the storm drew closer. The bridges were closed, monorail ceased service, busses stopped running, and most mainstream stores closed. Yes; even some convenience stores belonging to Lawson’s and FamilyMart chains shuttered their doors.

The typhoon’s maximum winds were 149.4kph in Okinawa’s Izena Village, just under 93mph. To the north, on Amami Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, it was little worse, with winds peaking at 159.12kph (98.87mph). The bluster was a far cry from the predicted 130~140mph (209~225kph), leaving islanders watching a windy weekend rainmaker.

Okinawa Electric Power Company says Typhoon Bolaven did a little bit of damage, plunging 17,800 households on Okinawa into darkness, while adding another 61,700 blacked out homes on Amami Island. Okinawa spent nearly 30 hours in the storm zone, with the military rolling into its cautionary Typhoon Conditions of Readiness late Saturday evening. The All Clear was issued Monday afternoon.

Only four injuries were reported on Okinawa, all involving elderly citizens caught up in the strong winds. A 78-year-old man in Ginowan City was struck by a gust of wind in front of his home Sunday morning, falling down. In Urasoe City, an 84-year-old man trying to pull down his house storm shutters climbed on an outdoor air conditioner unit, then lost his balance and fell, injuring his right arm. In Shuri’s Ishimine-cho, a 91-year-old man fell shortly before midnight Sunday, suffering cuts to his head. In Omoromachi in Naha City, a 75-year-old woman was buffeted by the winds and fell. She was taken to a hospital with a possible broken thigh bone.

Damage was sporadic, including collapse of a 3.5 meter high concrete block wall at a hotel in Chatan Town’s Miyagi district. A hotel employee lamented the fact his hotel had “just been renovated and I was surprised.” In Futenma district of Ginowan, a five-meter-tall security light pole set up by the local Residents’ Association was destroyed. In northern Okinawa, a section of roadway collapsed, plunging several meters down the hillside. Countless trees were blown down.

Rivers overflowed in Ogimi Village’s Kijoka district, and the rains became heavy on Monday, causing evacuation warnings ahead of possible landslides in the early evening. The Hentona River in Kunigami Village also overflowed, flooding nearby residences. At Shioya Bay in Ogimi Village, Prefectural Road 9 and Highway 331 were submerged to a depth of about one meter.

Cars were submerged in several areas, including Toma district of Nakagusuku Village, after seaweed and dirt choked up drainage grids Sunday and Monday, causing flood waters up to 70cm.