Climate

Thousands Forced To Flee Their Homes After Japan Experiences ‘Unprecedented’ Rainfall

CREDIT: AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi

Electric poles tilt damaged after floods hit Joso, Ibaraki prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015.

Eastern Japan was hit by widespread, dangerous flooding and more than 60 landslides this week after a tropical storm brought heavy rainfall and levees holding the Kinugawa River broke.

The flooding has forced more than 90,000 people to flee their homes, according to the BBC, and rescue workers have been using helicopters and boats to rescue people from the floodwaters. As of Thursday, in Osaki City, Japan, one person was missing, 21 people were injured and 1,000 homes were damaged, according to Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency. Also in Osaki City, CNN reports that three people have died. In Joso, Japan — which is north of Tokyo — more than 10,000 homes were likely damaged.

Greenhouses are submerged in the flood water from the swollen Kinugawa River in Joso, Ibaraki Prefecture, north of Tokyo, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. Houses lean forward, knocked partially off their foundations. The worst-hit are gone, their still-intact blue-tiled roofs left sitting on debris-strewn mud. The floodwaters have receded somewhat, but a vast area of the Japanese city of Joso remains inundated by a sea of brown water.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi

Takuya Deshimaru, chief forecaster at the Japan Meteorological Agency, said that this amount of rainfall was “unprecedented” for the region.

“We can say this is an abnormal situation and there is imminent serious danger,” he said.

The major rainfall was brought by Typhoon Etau, which hit Japan’s Tokai region Wednesday. According to the Japan Times, more than 410,000 people in Sendai, Japan were told to evacuate on Friday, after rainfall levels hit a record in the region. The high waters also caused additional radioactive water to leak from the now-shuttered Fukushima nuclear plant.

In eastern Japan’s Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures, weather stations logged more than 20 inches of rain in 24 hours. That’s double the amount that usually falls in the region in the entire month of September, according to NASA. Precipitation records at some weather stations were the highest in 40 years, and some meteorologists have referred to Etau as a “100-year-event.”

Vehicles drive through a flooded street in Joso, Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. Raging floodwaters broke through a flood berm Thursday and swamped the city north of Tokyo, washing away houses, forcing dozens of people to rooftops to await helicopter rescues.

Vehicles drive through a flooded street in Joso, Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. Raging floodwaters broke through a flood berm Thursday and swamped the city north of Tokyo, washing away houses, forcing dozens of people to rooftops to await helicopter rescues.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi

“There was a scene in front of me which was like the one in the tsunami disaster,” Jiro Nakayama told the Japan Times of the devastation in Joso, where the Kinugawa River’s levees broke. Another resident said that water levels rose to his waist within half an hour.

A woman holds her grandchild as evacuees of flood-stricken Joso city take refuge in a City Hall in Joso, Ibaraki prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015.

A woman holds her grandchild as evacuees of flood-stricken Joso city take refuge in a City Hall in Joso, Ibaraki prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi

Meteorologists said that the heavy rainfall was caused by a mass of humid air that stayed put over the Tokyo region.

“Usually, autumn typhoons pass quickly after making landfall in Japan, and strong rain clouds normally move eastward along with the typhoons,” Kunihiro Naito, a forecaster at Weathernews Inc., told Japan Times. “This time, however, after Typhoon Etau lost its strength and turned into a tropical cyclone in the Sea of Japan, it stayed there, while humid air kept flowing in from the south. This resulted in the formation of a rain zone in Kanto.”

Scientists have predicted that climate change has already upped the intensity of typhoons in the Northwest Pacific Ocean, and will continue to do so. Typhoons and hurricanes — which form in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific — draw a good deal of their strength from the warmth of the ocean, so as the ocean’s temperature rises, the world could see larger, more destructive hurricanes and typhoons. Warmer air also holds more moisture, so as the earth warms, more moisture can build up in the atmosphere, leading to more intense precipitation events.