Sunday, July 15, 2007

Typhoon Man-Yi

Typhoon Man-Yi is the first big storm in two years to actually hit Okinawa. We've had so many distant misses in the past years, so many false alarms, that there was some question whether this one was worth all of its press. Well, Man-Yi was pretty spectacular. It took close to 20 hours to pass completely over us, and the rain continued for another entire day after it was gone. The Japanese meteorological agency recorded wind speeds of 100 mph on Okinawa, with gusts up to 145 mph.

The great thing about typhoons, as opposed to tornadoes, my personal least-favorite disaster, is that you can see 'em coming. We knew Man-Yi was on its way for several days. Other storms in the past two years have veered before hitting the island, dumping a lot of rain on us but not really inconveniencing anybody all that much. But by Thursday morning we all knew we'd better get ready. Since my new job is located on the air base, I have access to better weather updates than offices on the Marine bases (military weather information for the Pacific comes from the air force "weather flight"), so we knew by 9:00 Thursday morning that Man-Yi wasn't going to slide around us. Some of the air force weather maps are great --- in the hemispherical satellite capture, you could see Man-Yi like a smudged fingerprint in the Pacific. By lunchtime, the rush to the commissaries was on, as everyone suddenly realized that they didn't have enough diapers or Diet Coke to hold them through the storm. (Liquor sales are halted on the bases once you go into TCCOR-2, I think it is, in an effort to prevent bored, drunk servicemen from doing stupid crap like something I just heard of: squirrel surfing, where you lay on your back in a flooded field with a blanket tied to your ankles, holding the top corners in your hands, and let the wind pick you up and literally fly you. Until you hit a rock. However, the smarter squirrels among us know that Japanese stores will sell you alcohol, too, and they don't close for bad weather. Not that I'm condoning drinking your way through natural disasters!)

By 10:00 on Thursday, the schools dismissed kids in summer school classes; at 3:00, government employees were sent home. We were in pretty good shape --- we happened to have a full fridge and pantry (and freezer) and we were stocked on diapers and toilet paper, so Ed ran to the Commissary for more apple juice and milk, and to the PX for a dozen new videos, and I ran a tub full of water when I got home. We brought in all of our outside things (the patio furniture, the kids' bikes, the sunflower plant Atanasia grew for Mother's Day and the bean plant Sebastian grew for his last science project) and made sure all the windows were closed. I pulled both cars into our space under the building, thinking that they would be more sheltered from flying debris there. And that was pretty much all we needed to do.

Other than the adrenaline rush of knowing the typhoon was coming, Thursday was a regular day. The sky was a solid pack of clouds, and the wind was already strong enough that it was hard to walk through, but once we'd finished our storm-prep chores, things went on as usual. We had dinner, watched the Disney channel, and put everyone to bed at the regular time. I woke up at about 3:00 Friday morning to that freight-train sound I remember from the last, nearest miss --- it's the sound the wind makes as it smashes against solid objects like the building you're sleeping in. But by the time everyone was awake Friday morning, the rain was slacking off and the wind wasn't as strong, and it seemed as if we'd slept through it.

Turns out, this was the eye, and in another hour the back wall of the typhoon passed over. I'd wanted to see how high the surf got during the typhoon, but there was so much rain, all slashing through the air sideways, and the wind was thrashing the trees around so violently, that really you could only see maybe 30 feet into the park across the street, and not as far as the ocean.

We didn't lose power, although since you don't have "cable" tv service in Okinawa but satellite service instead, you lose that in any moderate rainstorm, so we lost television reception most of Friday and part of Saturday. The armload of new videos kept the kids happy, but they were pretty tired of being stuck in the apartment by Friday afternoon. We let them go up to the 4th floor to see if they could visit a friend --- turns out, the 2nd floor gets a lot more shelter from nearby building than the higher floors, and they got some flooding in the upstairs apartments.

By Friday night, Man-Yi was past us and on its way to mainland, where a lot of people got stuck at Kansai airport. We still had a solid mass of clouds all day Saturday, and so much rain that anything that had already started leaking got a lot wetter. As I drove to Okinawa City on Saturday morning, most of the storm damage I saw was broken tree limbs (now I see why they keep the trees so severely pruned here --- they keep the branches trimmed so that the tree is compact) and some smaller trees uprooted.

A few businesses that left their awnings out had them shredded, and the places that left their advertising banners out had some of them tangled, but apart from one light truck that Ed and the kids saw flipped over, and the damage that some cars got from being parked under trees (silly Americans), the damage here was very light. Okinawa has a system of "rivers" (concrete-bedded streams) leading from further inland to the sea that channel storm surges and prevent New Orleans-style flooding. All of the coastlines near urban areas are studded with huge concrete breakwaters (they look like 10-foot-tall concrete jacks), and most of the beaches have artificial breakwaters further out in the ocean, as well. The expression "safe as houses" could have been invented to describe modern Japanese architecture --- even during the occasional earthquake, our building is flexible but solid, and it didn't so much as budge under 100-mph winds. All we really needed to do was come home, close it up, and stay inside.

But finally, this morning, it's all blown away and we woke to another startlingly perfect island day.