Canadian rugby team players volunteer to clean a road in Kamaishi, Iwate prefecture following the cancellation of their Rugby World Cup Pool B match against Namibia. Picture: AP
Canadian rugby team players volunteer to clean a road in Kamaishi, Iwate prefecture following the cancellation of their Rugby World Cup Pool B match against Namibia. Picture: AP

WATCH: Tokyo's storm-proof hotels can't stand up to might of Typhoon Hagibis

By NIK SIMON Time of article published Oct 14, 2019

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Tokyo - As early as 9.30am local time - 12 hours before Typhoon Hagibis was due to strike - storm clouds from the Pacific Ocean were already ripping past my bedroom windows high up on the 62nd floor.

In my room of the Royal Park Hotel, where the team of hosts Japan are staying, news bulletins flashed up on the TV showing images of the early devastation across the country.

Forecasters were warning to prepare for the biggest storm of its kind this century, with wind speeds on the East Coast reaching 140mph (about 225kph). I was beginning to feel nervous.

There was footage of roofs being stripped off houses, cars being flipped over, submerged vehicles, violent floods, trapped residents and reports of the first death 50 miles (about 80km) to the east in Chiba. A reminder that, in the eye of the storm, there was more at risk than the integrity of the World Cup.

Over in Tokyo, just 20 miles away, a friend called to tell me a letter had appeared under the door of their room at their ANA Intercontinental Hotel. 

It was supposed to reassure guests, but one line stood out: "Our hotel was designed to move during strong winds so you may notice some related noise"’ it read. "Please do not be alarmed as this is completely normal."

Before the worst of the typhoon arrived, the Brave Blossoms, as Japan are known, held their captain’s run - ahead of Monday's under-threat match against Scotland - at the Chichibunomiya Stadium in Tokyo. 

Parts of the ground were already under water and players had to walk through knee-deep flooding just to reach the pitch. The worst of the weather was yet to come.

Sandbags were placed at the entrance of buildings around Yokohama Bay to protect them from damage, while local businessmen tied up their shop-front hoardings with ropes to hold them together against the gales.

"Biggest typhoon for 50 years. Fast. Strong. Dangerous. Stay inside," said the hotel porter, wearing a trench coat and wellington boots, when I ventured down to the lobby to look outside.

All forms of public transport were shut down and the shops, most of which closed up on Friday night, were stripped bare as customers stocked up on food and drink supplies before last orders. On the newsstands, satellite pictures of the typhoon were splashed across the front of the papers.

Back in my room, a strange creaking sound could be heard as I looked out of the windows. It was the building moving. The worst part of the storm was still to arrive.

Emergency evacuation alerts flashed up on my mobile, and on the news I could now see locals taking cover in schools and leisure centres. Across the country, more than one million people were put under an evacuation orders as households were hit by widespread power cuts. 

Nearby rivers doubled in size and flooding occurred around the confines of the Yokohama Stadium, which is due to host today’s match if it passes inspections this morning.

A few kilometres across town, Scotland were marooned in the Sheraton Hotel. Refusing to give up hope of today’s game going ahead, they ran through training drills in the ball room of their luxury base. 

"Ryan Wilson has been keeping us entertained with his typhoon knowledge," said full-back Stuart Hogg. Back in the Royal Park Hotel, Japan’s players took refuge in the exposed confines of their team-room on the 70th floor. Their English analyst, Andrew Watts, who I interviewed as the wind picked up outside, explained how the players were used to such conditions.

"Most of the boys will be spending time on computers looking at their opposite Scotland number," he said. "They work harder than any other nation. If they want to chill out, they’ll chill out."

On the way up in the lift, I met one of Japan’s players. He’d had a phonecall from his wife, who was staying in a hotel a couple of blocks away, to say they had ran out of food supplies. He filled a bag with pork bao buns and chicken skewers to take over, before returning to watch Ireland versus Samoa.

But shortly before kick-off, at about 6.30pm, the hotel began to shake across all 70 floors, as an earthquake measuring 5.7 on the Richter Scale struck before the typhoon. 

Hotel staff assured guests of the building’s structural safety - and rugby fans from rival nations showed bunker spirit as they gathered in the lobby to make plans to watch the night’s match together on a laptop.

The storm eventually arrived, battering the building which swayed and creaked like a cruise liner for almost three hours. Outside there was the sound of rain hammering against the windows and a hurricane-force wind howling across the rooftops.

The storm was expected to continue until 2am, but it moved on to its next victim three hours ahead of schedule, which can only bode well for today’s Test. Japan, they say, is an expert at getting back on its feet and, before long, the first cars braved the roads.

A trail of collateral damage was left in the storm’s track - a blazing fire could be seen from the 62nd floor in a shipyard 15 miles south - and World Cup organisers were left with a race against time.

Mail On Sunday

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