Touching Base

Between the damage done by the typhoon last week and a freak wave of work that slammed over my desk quite unexpectedly, I just haven’t felt like writing lately.
It’s kinda depressing driving around because the traffic is really bad – the drive to work usually takes less than 15 minutes, but now it takes up to an hour. Last week I mentioned that a couple bridges had broken, but it turns out that several more suffered structural damage that wasn’t seen at first and have since been closed to traffic. Road conditions have been appalling – the thick layers of river silt on the asphalt dried out the first few days after the typhoon, which of course resulted in terrific dust storms kicked up by traffic. Then it started raining again yesterday, resetting the cycle of state change. The downpour lasted for a full day and had several predictable yet wholly unwelcome effects. Drying mud that had been piled to the side of roads and buildings for later removal (recycling?) slowly reverted to sludge, seeping outward once again. Great piles of trash consisting of shorted appliances, waterlogged tatamis, and soiled books, clothes, and furniture of every shape and size but of uniform color (cafe au lait), all the refuse discarded by the those whose homes were ruined, grew heavy with water and toppled into the streets, swimming in the pools of freshly liberated mud.
And that’s about all I want to say at this point. What can I say? I can only wax mad about mud for so long before it starts affecting my mood since, you know, I feel like I’m living in it. But that’s hardly fair – my house wasn’t even damaged. I met up with my personnel manager today, and she really was living in caveman conditions until yesterday, when they used a firehose to clear her house of mud. I asked if I could lend a hand in some way, but she said that unless I had some brilliant way to make her insurance company cover damages instead of using the fine print to fuck her, no (but39-4asking).
The river overflowing had one positive effect that I can see, the rice paddies are positively EXPRODING with crop! Never mind that it’s probably too late to harvest, the vibrant green patches dotting the muted landscape nicely break up the monotony and have gained my respect: Rice plants are some seriously tough, photosynthesizin’-ass playaz. And as an added bonus, I now know what an Egyptian farmer must feel like.

Damage Report

First off, me and mine are OK. I know the rest of the world can hardly be expected to notice yet another typhoon hitting our little island this year, but let me tell you, this one was by far the worst. It has caused destruction on a scale I have not seen in person since the Hanshin earthquake almost a decade ago (although, luckily, it wasn’t nearly as destructive as that).
The big river that runs through Sumoto overflowed for the first time in anyone’s memory (perhaps the first time, ever), as did most of its branches and tributaries. The city, for the most part, was not prepared for flooding on this scale as it simply had never happened before.
The peak of the flooding was around the time I made my last post yesterday, although in my house we weren’t even aware of it save for news reports. Luckily, we live far enough away from the water and on a slight rise, which made all the difference. People living near the rivers, especially those on lower ground and geographic depressions were hit very hard. My brother and I walked around my neighborhood late last night after the typhoon had left, and were fairly shocked to see the extent of the flooding.
All of the bridges had soggy reeds and various other debris caught on the railings and lamp posts indicating the depth of their submersion at one point. People had started hosing and sweeping mud out of their houses and small shops, a sight we would see throughout the rest of our walk. Along the river bank, we came upon an old lady in tears, whose entire house had been inundated with river silt. She was fishing out what muddy possessions she could and hanging them on the frame of her ancient bicycle. We wanted to offer a hand, but she just glared at us and didn’t want to be bothered. We walked on. Further upstream, a man was dumping plastic jerrycans filled with kerosene into the river (which at that point had receded somewhat but was still flowing much swifter than usual). I caught snippets of what he was saying to someone in the house and it appeared he was angry because the river water had contaminated the fuel. In a frustrated rage, he was tossing the tainted jerrycans in the river as if to say, here, just take it all you hungry bitch.
We came up to our recently-discovered neighborhood bar where we are on close terms with the master, Hirata-san. He was inside, so we stepped in to talk. The wooden floor was covered in mud, and the place had obviously been hit pretty hard by the floodwater. Hirata-san was in a daze, and just kept repeating, “I don’t know where to start (the cleanup) from.” His story of the flooding explained the state of mind we found him in:
Between 3 and 4 in the afternoon, he had been taking precautions just in case the flooding got much worse when all of a sudden he was standing waist-deep in the river of brown water that rushed through the front door. Right before his eyes, all of the refrigerators, sound system components, the DVD projector, almost everything was ruined.
It was kind of hard to say anything – what do you say when someone loses their livelihood like that – but I was kind of worried about him. So we stuck around for a while and discussed the merits of immediately washing out as much mud as possible before it dried vs. saying “fuckit,” ripping out the floor panels at leisure, and starting all over. I think we’ ll go by and check on him again tonight.
On the way to work today I wasn’t so surprised to find that there were neighborhoods hit harder than mine, but the amount of devastation was unreal. All the streets are covered in slippery mud, causing serious traffic problems. Every house and every shop along both sides of the main river got flooded. The bad areas look like small lakes still. The places lucky enough to be on higher ground so the water could drain away after the storm were left with several inches of stinky river silt left on their floors.
The Self-Defense Force guys got called down from the base in Himeiji to help out, and they were out in numbers. What the fuck for I still don’t know, because they were mostly just looking at cars that fell into the river and smoking cigarettes, just like everyone else. I suppose they might have brought some some engineers for damage assessment or something, but from their pressed and decidedly un-muddied uniforms, they obviously weren’t getting their hands dirty. Maybe they are doing some good, though. We’ll see.
It took me an hour to get to my office, and in that time I saw:
A broken bridge
A hundred people shoveling mud out of their front door
Several cars stuck in mudholes, some so deep only the roof was protruding
1 old man on a scooter slip on the mud and eat shit on a curve – the mud also saved him by padding his fall
A fleet of pump-mounted trucks draining the graveyard, which is very unfortunately shaped like a bowl
Two vans that had tipped over and fallen into a flooded rice paddy
A meter-thick stone pillar snapped in half by god knows what and laying across the road
A yellow 350Z being fished from the river
An empty showroom at the Nissan dealer (makes you wonder doesn’t it?)
One of my coworkers was hit hard last night. His house is apparently “buried” in mud. I am proud of my company today because they sent most of the people from my office, including our section manager, to help him out. I wonder if this is standard practice or not. Either way, I’m proud they are taking care of their own in this case.

Humbolt Squid off of Long Beach

If you live in Los Angeles and you want to go fishing for squid, right now is the time to do it- apparently these large squid were spotted as far North as Washington state. If you want to go salt water fishing, then you have a free source of bait waiting for you on the beach. The seagulls must be having a feast! Fishing for Humbolts would kick the pants off of cuttlefish fishing on Awaji, but I still wouldn’t go squid fishing even if I had the chance. They just can’t fight that well, and there’s always the possibility of being shot with a stream of brine, or even that nasty ink. Still, they are cool to watch as they hover around and hunt the baitfish in the harbor.

Riding the Big Lizard (Typhoon Tokage)

So typhoon Tokage (lizard) almost washed me and my poor car away (liveblogging posts are on my sidebar today; here is the permanent link), but after 2 hours of endless waiting at flooded intersections and negotiating some gnarly mudslides, I have gotten home safely. Unfortunately, not everyone was as fortunate, so I helped push one car out of a ditch and gave someone else a ride to their car.
I can’t believe they turned us out of the office just in time to face such heinous weather and road conditions. “Why did we have work today at all?,” was a common complaint overheard in the moments after the announcement to go home. Those people will really have a bone to pick tomorrow, I’m sure. As for me, I’m just happy I got back home and out of the rain. I’m gonna call some coworkers and see if they got back okay.