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Typhoon sweeps south, beating up on the Yaeyama island chain

Date Posted: 2005-07-22

Typhoon Haitang pounded Taiwan and the east coast of southcentral mainland China earlier this week, but not before lashing Ishigaki and Iriomote Islands.

The super typhoon, which would rank in Saffir Simpson hurricane scales as a Category 5 storm, lingered over the Yaeyama Islands for 30 hours, strong winds whipping through at speeds of 54.8 m/s. Electric power was lost to 8,000 homes, boats sunk, flights were cancelled and six people were injured.

Yonaguni Town was worst hit, as the six residents were injured by flying debris. Ocean going transport containers were tossed about like matchsticks, glass windows were blown out of stairwells and water at Kohama Island failed as electricity went out.

Fifty-four flights between Naha and Ishigaki were cancelled Monday, stranding thousands of travelers at both airports. Officials say 4,500 people were stuck at Ishigaki as they’d enjoyed weekend outings. Flights began returning to normal Tuesday, with those between Yonaguni and Ishigaki being restored on a limited basis due to the extensive damage inflicted to the island by Typhoon Haitang.

Tourists scrambled to find alternate flight arrangements, including jumping to another airline that was restoring service more quickly. Others looked for passage on ferries.

The farmers were the big losers with Haitang, though. Agricultural areas took a giant hit, with heavy damage reported to sugar cane, flowers, pineapples, vegetables and bananas. Local officials say the crops will rebound some, but prices will invariably rise as the result of lower yields.

As with every storm, there were dozens of individual stories, and some complaints. A mainland Japan woman who’d planned her Ishigaki vacation for more than a year was frustrated. “It was the biggest event of my life,” she told a radio reporter. “And now it is all ruined.” While sympathetic, local residents were stoic in reminding her that typhoons are a way of life in the islands.

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