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A Look At The Damage Done In Japan By Typhoon Hagibis


A typhoon slammed into Japan over the weekend, the most powerful storm to hit the country in more than 60 years. It brought more than three feet of rain in 24 hours to some areas. I will say that again - three feet of rain in 24 hours. Levees broke. Rivers poured over their banks. People have been rescued off their roofs by helicopter or rode out by boat. More than 70 people have died. More are missing.

Motoko Rich of The New York Times has been reporting from some of the hardest-hit areas, including Fukushima prefecture.

MOTOKO RICH: I was in a town called Koriyama about 45 miles west of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and there were many streets that were still impassable. People couldn't yet get into their homes. A lot of people have been completely displaced and had said that when they went to look, the water is still up to hip- or even chest-level, and they could barely get in.

KELLY: Stay with Fukushima for a second because as you note, this is a place we all got very familiar with - tragically so - back in 2011 after the earthquake and tsunami and the whole nuclear meltdown. Was the nuclear plant itself hit? Was it damaged?

RICH: No. I don't think in that area, there was - I didn't hear much about that being the problem. It was really mostly floodwaters, residential areas, industrial areas. But I don't think the plant itself was affected, and interestingly, like, the real problem this time around was not so much storm surges but rivers overflowing. And Japan has lots and lots of rivers and quite a lot of homes built, you know, right close up to the rivers and in floodplains.

KELLY: And your heart must just break for these people who had to rebuild everything just eight years ago.

RICH: Absolutely.

KELLY: And here they are again.

RICH: Yeah. I actually met with a gentleman who's a third-generation owner of a auto body repair shop, and we walked into his shop yesterday. You know, the floor was completely covered with mud. Everything was overturned. Everything was obviously going to have to be replaced, and he told me that he had, in fact, just two years ago paid back a loan of about $185,000 that he had to take out to repair all the damage that was done by the earthquake back in 2011. And so he was sort of saying, I don't know if I can do this again, and I think this might be an end for me.

KELLY: You were also reporting from a city just northwest of Tokyo. I was reading some of your reporting...

RICH: Yeah.

KELLY: ...From a nursing home and senior citizens trying to cope. Would you tell me some of what you saw, who you met?

RICH: Sure. We had been seeing footage and hearing on the news that there was this nursing home that had been isolated with about 200 patients in there. And firefighters were rowing out to the nursing home, and one by one, the patients were loaded onto these rubber dinghies and brought to a place where they could finally be disembarked on dry land, loaded up into wheelchairs.

And there was one woman who - my heart really went for her. The boat was sort of coming into the dry land, and the firefighter took her on his back and carried her onto shore. And then a volunteer was waiting with a wheelchair and loaded her onto the wheelchair, and she just gave this big, beaming smile.

KELLY: Yeah.

RICH: And she told me that she had been so scared the night before. She said the only other time she remembered being this scared was during World War II. She's 87 years old.

KELLY: Oh, wow. What happened here? You said people had been under orders to evacuate. Japan...

RICH: Yes.

KELLY: ...Prides itself on being really well-prepared for this. It's not the...

RICH: Yes.

KELLY: ...First time that catastrophic weather has hit. Was this just a storm on a scale that you can't quite prepare for?

RICH: I think in a way, yes. I mean, I think we're going to learn in the coming days and weeks exactly what went wrong, whether there were some reservoirs that should have been lowered beforehand or whether the levees were not strong enough. But most of the people I've talked to so far have talked about how, you know, in fact, the infrastructure is pretty good. But when you are dealing with increasing intensity of storms, climate change, you know, it takes more than good infrastructure that worked in the past to work with the climate that we're now dealing with today.

KELLY: That's Motoko Rich, Tokyo bureau chief for The New York Times. Thanks very much for your reporting.

RICH: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.