Weathering the Storm on Amami Oshima Island

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A photograph of Jackie Penn, an African American with family ties to Amami Oshima, shares his story about his time on the Island during the severe rain storm.
Jackie Penn shares his story

Our good friend Jackie Penn submitted this story to BT and we thank him for sharing. Jackie an African American with family ties in Amami Oshima shares his experience during the severe rain back in October that took the lives of three people and caused floods, mudslides and left residents without power.
Please read his story below.

When I arrived in Tokyo on September 27th, it was raining.  I left for Amami Oshima the following day and was greeted with sweltering heat and humidity.  I much prefer this to the cold.  Most of my 23 days here were very cooperative with my need to do outside work, though the temperatures and humidity were high.  However, on the 18th of October the rains began to move in, starting with scattered sprinkles and slight showers.  On the 19th the frequency increased, but still offering me opportunities to get some outside work done.  However, the 20th of October was very uncooperative.

A heavy rain storm causes severe flooding and mud slides in Amami Oshima. Damage includes broken trees and downed telephone and power lines. Photo courtesy of Atsuo Beppu.
Severe damage caused by storm in Amami Oshima.

It began raining the night of the 19th and did not stop for the great majority of the 20th.  Most the time the rains were intense.  I had no opportunity to get any outside work done.  In fact, I was effectively on lock down, inside our home, until someone came to my rescue to take me to the air port.  Before starting our drive to the air port I needed to get in and out of the car several times loading luggage and delivering several gifts and small things, as well as saying my good-byes to friends.  The rains were so intense that an umbrella became pointless  and it became more effective to dash for cover from the car to the point I was heading.

A heavy rain storm causes severe flooding and mud slides in Amami Oshima. Damage includes broken trees and downed telephone and power lines. Photo courtesy of Atsuo Beppu.
Heavy Rain Storm in Amami Oshima

On the way to the air port we were met by several detours from land slides and floods.  We attempted a detour of our own and were met by a recent land slide that completely blocked the path.  We noticed the mud rushing down the hill and quickly retreated back in the direction from which we came.  After getting back to the road we were originally on we were soon met by a one lane detour (passage) because of a land slide from the hill along the side of the road.  This was but a slight delay.  As we exited the tunnel we were clear of any more mountains and hills between the tunnel and the air port, and were now in the “flat lands”.  This is where the flooding became more intense.  Being a native of sunny Southern California (basically a desert) this weather was very unusual to me.

On the way to the air port I made several “unusual” observations:
1. A man who appeared to be in his early to mid seventies pushing a wheel barrel loaded with what looked like sugar cane, one of the main crops of the island.  He appeared to not be affected by the rains.  He had work to do and he was getting it done.
2. A lady who looked to be in her early to mid sixties carrying a small plastic container (approximately 30 liters capacity), wearing a one piece dress of calf length, appearing not to be affected by the downpour.  There was no nearby shelter in the vicinity of either of these two people.
3. A young man, wearing a T-shirt, short pants and thong shoes, crossing a bridge stopping to look over the side at the water rushing below.
4. I estimate this gentleman’s age to be between 87 and 92.  He was walking away from the shelter of a neighborhood, wearing thong slippers, thigh high short pants, a loose fitting opened short jacket (with nothing under it) and an umbrella that had seen better days.

A close up shot of a partially covered car by a mud slide in Amami Oshima. Photo courtesy of Atsuo Beppu.
Amami Oshima Mud slide.

This is when I began to look at me and re-evaluate my understanding of toughness.  None of these people seem to be panicked or worried about their situation.  They seemed to have the attitude that life goes on. O.K. We successfully made it to the air port and the time is about 5:30pm now.  At about 5:45pm we began seeing reports of the storm damage on television at the air port.  A short time later I suggested my in-laws and nephew return home, in hope of avoiding becoming stranded in the night.  They refused to leave before I was allowed to enter the boarding area.  This was 6:40pm, with no daylight, when I was allowed to enter.  There was concern about my flight being able to leave, because of the rain.  Well, my flight left on time.  However, the family was not able to pass back through the tunnel we came through to get to the air port.  There had been a land slide that blocked the entrance, or exit, and area was flooded.  They rented a hotel for the night and returned home on foot the following day…in the rain.  I estimate the distance at approximately 3.5 Kilometers.

A photograph of a partially covered car by a mud slide in Amami Oshima. Photo courtesy of Atsuo Beppu.
Mud slid in Anami Oshima

This storm caused failure of both phone and Internet service in the Tatsugo-Cho area and we still have not spoken with them in 5 days.  We are getting information of their well being from a mutual friend in Tatsugo-Cho, who is the photographer of the attached photos.  Another friend sent a message telling me they had a blue sky there, after 5 days of rain and clouds.  But, the tunnel is still blocked.

I am forever indebted to them for the ordeal they went through because of taking me to the air port.  It sure feels great know people genuinely care about you!

I work in post production sound for film and television during the day. But by night I blog with my main man Zurui, DJ, produce electronic music and sleep if I can fit it into my schedule.

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