Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
“Okinawa is such a beautiful place, not just the ocean and scenery and culture, but the people. I’ve been treated well and taken care of by many people here in what has become ‘My Hawai‘i.’” — Colin Sewake
LOCATION: Okinawa, Oct. 28, 2017
Just thought I’d give everyone an Aloha Saturday morning typhoon report from Okinawa. Yes, it’s windy and rainy here, as we are being hit by a small typhoon. The Japanese system has labeled it Typhoon #22, but the Joint Typhoon Warning Center labeled it Tropical Storm #27 and has given it the name Saola. It isn’t as big a storm as others I’ve experienced in the past two decades, but it seems so because the eye of the storm is passing over Okinawa island today.
The U.S. military bases went into Typhoon Condition 1 Emergency (TC-1E) a few hours ago, because the wind speeds reached 50 knots (58 mph). Everything closed down (commissary, gas station, exchange, etc.) and personnel are required to stay in their homes, including those who live off-base, until the winds back down to under 50 knots and mission-essential personnel can first recover the base and make sure everything is safe (i.e., clear debris on the roads, check for downed power lines, etc.) before people are allowed to come out of their homes.
What a contrast now that I’m retired from the military and working off base in Naha. I have to go to work today! For most Okinawans, however, it’s just another day, albeit a wet and windy one.
The Yomitan Matsuri, which was scheduled for the Oct 28 and 29 weekend was cancelled, and an Oct. 29 event planned by former Sand Island prisoner of war Hikoshin Toguchi at the Okinawa Prefectural Library was cancelled and will be rescheduled later.
Well, it’s time to feed Hana, our 3 1/2-year-old rescued dog, who is enjoying the indoors due to the inclement weather. I also have to tend to my normal house duties before I head into the wind and rain for the hour-long drive to Naha.
Updating my Oct. 28 submission on Typhoon #22, or Saola, as it was named by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center . . .
Some people have asked me how Okinawans weather these typhoons. They also want to know how buildings and houses are constructed to withstand these weather conditions.
Right after I sent out my Oct. 28 submission, I got on the road and headed in to work. By then, the eye of the storm was over the island, so my one-hour drive to Naha was actually calm. Normally, the high winds will push my van around to the point where it shakes because of the large surface area, so I have to stay alert throughout my drive because the van will actually veer away from the centerline. As I drove down Highway 58, I noticed that just about everything was closed — fast food restaurants, business offices, gas stations, etc. Only the convenience stores seemed to be open. The bus system and the Yui Rail monorail had also been stopped.
My drive home 12 to 13 hours later wasn’t that bad, either, as the backside of the typhoon had moved away from us.
The next day, which was Sunday, Oct. 29, I drove onto Torii Station, which is a U.S. Army base in Sobe, Yomitan, and found a tree that had been blown over by the winds. This is the typical kind of damage we get during these storms, along with debris here and there.
I’ve also heard of first floor flooding in areas near the seawall in Kadena during previous storms due to waves crashing over the wall, even with the reef and giant concrete jacks placed there to prevent the force of the waves from coming through.
Most structures in Okinawa are made from concrete in order to withstand the annual typhoons that pass through the islands each year. Even park pavilions are made of concrete. So are the tables, chairs and railings. They may look like they’re made from wooden logs, but if you look carefully, they’re actually made from concrete, just designed to look natural.
When Keiko and I built our house in Nagahama, Yomitan, in 1999, we didn’t put up any kind of protection on the outside (i.e., shutter doors) of the house. Shortly after we moved in, a typhoon hit the island. I noticed rainwater seeping in through the window sill due to the high winds, slowly dripping down the wall near the electrical outlet and beginning to wet the floor of our master bedroom upstairs.
I called out to Keiko to come upstairs and for the next several hours, she soaked up the water with old T-shirts and rags as I sat on the toilet, wringing out the wet cloths over the drain in the tile floor. Our daughter Mizuki, who was only a couple years old at the time, was running back and forth between the master bedroom and the bathroom, passing me the wet cloths and then taking the ones I had wrung out back to Keiko so that she could soak up more of the rainwater. I wrung out so many rags that I developed blisters in no time. But I couldn’t stop until the rain subsided, which, if I remember correctly, lasted at least a couple of hours.
After that experience, Keiko and I had shutter doors installed on the backside of the house — that’s the side facing the East China Sea around the first floor sliding doors and the window of our master bedroom. Whenever a typhoon comes our way, we close the shutter doors, which acts as a buffer and prevents rainwater from coming into the house through the sills and door ledges. Instead, the rain hits the shutter doors, which also block the wind from hitting the windows and glass doors. This prevents pooled up water from entering the house.
Shutter doors are supposed to protect homes from flying debris, but we’ve never had that problem. Instead, they now are protecting our house from water damage.
Colin Sewake is a keiki o ka ‘äina from Wahiawä, O‘ahu, who was assigned to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa in December 1994 to fulfill his U.S. Air Force ROTC commitment. He met his future wife, Keiko, within a month and decided to make Okinawa his permanent home. Colin retired from the Air Force and, recently from the Air Force Reserves. He now works as a customer service representative for Hotel Sun Palace Kyuyokan in Naha. Colin and Keiko have two teenaged children and make their home in Yomitan.