The Japanese prosaically identify Pacific storms by number rather titan name unless they’re very special – and the typhoon that brewed up in September 1959 most definitely earned a title. The Isewan Typhoon I known by the rest of the world as Typhoon Vera – was a massive storm by any name, becoming infamous as Japan’s worst natural disaster after smashing into the southeastern coast of Honshu. Vera then tracked up the island, leaving widespread death and destruction in her wake.
It all began with a low-pressure area near Guam in the western Pacific, which slowly built into a tropical storm. Quickly intensifying and acquiring a name, Vera’s 305 kph (190 mph) winds immediately qualified her as a super typhoon. These wind speeds had slowed to a still-ferocious 260 kph (160 mph) when Vera hit the Japanese coastline in the Kansai region on September 26. The next day the weakening typhoon crossed the northern tip of Honshu and sped off into the northern Pacific, losing momentum and strength before petering out. But by then Typhoon Vera’s lofty status in the annals of natural destruction had been amply secured.
This violent storm brought high winds and heavy rainfall, along with a major storm surge that battered the coast and caused extensive flooding inland. Massive damage was done to sea defenses in particular and infrastructure in general; vast areas of planted crops were ruined even as countless buildings were irreparably damaged or demolished, including 557,500 houses. Over 5,000 died, 39,000 reportable injuries were sustained and nearly 1,600,000 people lost their homes. The city of Nagoya was devastated and the Tokyo-Yokohama area also saw damaging carnage. A vicious sting in Typhoon Vera’s tail was felt after the storm had passed, as various epidemics – including dysentery 1 raged among the legion of people left homeless.
When: September 21-28 1959
Where: Honshu, Japan
Death toll: The published figure was 4,697 dead with a further 401 missing.
You should know: The Japanese designation of ‘Isewan Typhoon’ was chosen because Isewan Bay at the main impact point suffered the most concentrated damage, experiencing and failing to repel a 4 m (13 ft) storm surge that overwhelmed sea walls and inundated an area up to 8 km (5 mi) inland.