Two die in Japan as typhoon makes landfall

Two die in Japan as typhoon makes landfall

6 million advised to evacuate as authorities warn Hagibis could bring 'unprecedented' rainfall

Men watch as the rain-swollen Isuzu River surges past houses in Ise in central Japan on Saturday. (Kyodo Photo)
Men watch as the rain-swollen Isuzu River surges past houses in Ise in central Japan on Saturday. (Kyodo Photo)

TOKYO: Heavy rain and strong winds pounded Tokyo and surrounding areas on Saturday evening as a powerful typhoon forecast to be Japan’s worst in six decades made landfall southwest of Tokyo, with streets, beaches and train stations deserted.

At least two people have died, three were missing and dozens more were injured, while as many as 6 million people were advised to evacuate as Typhoon Hagibis gathered force.

Store shelves were bare after people stocked up on water and food. The Japan Meteorological Agency warned of dangerously heavy rainfall in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures, including Gunma, Saitama and Kanagawa.

An earthquake shook the area drenched by the rainfall shortly before the typhoon made landfall in Shizuoka prefecture on Saturday evening. The US Geological Survey said the magnitude 5.3 quake was centred in the ocean off the coast of Chiba, near Tokyo, and was fairly deep, at 59.5 kilometres. Deep quakes tend to cause less damage than shallow ones.

The Japan Meteorological Agency downgraded the intensity of the storm to “powerful” from “very powerful” around 6pm. But forecast winds of up to 216 kph in the Tokyo area could still potentially knock down houses, it warned.

“Be ready for rainfall of the kind that you have never experienced,” said agency official Yasushi Kajihara, adding that areas usually safe from disasters may prove vulnerable.

“Take all measures necessary to save your life,” he said.

Kajihara said people who live near rivers must take shelter on the second floor or higher of any sturdy building if an officially designated evacuation centre wasn’t easily accessible.

Authorities warned that the typhoon was causing water levels in a number of rivers, including the Tama and the Arakawa in the Tokyo metropolitan area, to rise dangerously.

At least five rivers including those in Tokyo’s Hachioji and Ome overflowed, according to local governments.

The projected path of the typhoon may result in further damage to areas in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo where another powerful typhoon destroyed houses and triggered widespread power outages in September.

Chiba’s prefectural government said a tornado also hit part of Ichihara and destroyed 12 houses and damaged over 70 others.

Hagibis, which means “speed” in Tagalog, brought heavy rainfall in wide areas of Japan all day ahead of its landfall, including in Shizuoka and Mie prefectures, southwest of Tokyo, as well as Chiba to the north.

Tornado adds to misery

Under gloomy skies, a tornado ripped through Chiba on Saturday, overturning a car in the city of Ichihara and killing a man inside the vehicle, city official Tatsuya Sakamaki said. Five people were injured when the tornado ripped through a house. Their injuries were not life-threatening, Sakamaki said.

The heavy rain flipped anchored boats and whipped up sea waters in a dangerous surge along the coast, flooding some neighbourhoods and leaving people to wade in ankle-deep water and cars floating.

In Shizuoka, one of two men who went missing in the Nishikawa River was rescued, Gotemba city official Fumihiko Katsumata said. Firefighters said the two were working at a river canal to try to control overflowing when they were swept away.

Yusuke Ikegaya, a Shizuoka resident who evacuated ahead of the storm, said he was surprised that the nearby river was about to overflow in the morning, hours before the typhoon made landfall.

“In the 28 years of my life, this is the first time I’ve had to evacuate even before a typhoon has landed,” he said.

Authorities also warned of mudslides, common in mountainous Japan.

The public broadcaster NHK said Shiroyama dam in Kanagawa prefecture, also southwest of Tokyo, may release some of its waters, which were nearing limits. An overflooded dam is likely to cause greater damage, and so releasing some water gradually is a standard emergency measure.

Events cancelled

Rugby World Cup matches, concerts and other events in the area were cancelled, while flights were grounded and train services halted. Authorities acted quickly, with warnings issued earlier in the week, including urging people to stay indoors.

Some 17,000 police and military troops were called up, standing ready for rescue operations.

Residents taped up their apartment windows to prevent them from shattering. TV talks shows showed footage of household items like a slipper bashing through glass when hurled by winds.

Evacuation advisories were issued for risk areas, including Shimoda city, west of Tokyo. Dozens of evacuation centres were set up in coastal towns, and people rested on gymnasium floors, saying they hoped their homes were still there after the storm passed.

The typhoon disrupted a three-day weekend that includes Sports Day on Monday. Qualifying for the Formula One auto race in Suzuka was pushed to Sunday. The Defense Ministry also cut its three-day annual navy review to a single day on Monday.

All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines grounded hundreds of domestic and international flights at the Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya airports. Central Japan Railway cancelled bullet-train service between Tokyo and Osaka except for several early Saturday trains connecting Nagoya and Osaka. Tokyo Disneyland was closed, while Ginza department stores and smaller shops throughout Tokyo were shuttered.

Storm surges were forecast to continue battering the Pacific coast of Honshu on Sunday, with torrential rain expected to cause floods and landslides.

Hagibis is an unusually large storm, expected to bring “brutal winds and violent seas” to large swathes of the country, the meteorological agency said, adding that accumulations could be the worst in 60 years.

Typhoon Ida, known as the “Kanogawa Typhoon” in Japanese, killed more than 1,000 people in 1958. 

The expected rainfall, in particular, has raised fears, with the warning that high tides ahead of a full moon increase the risk of flooding.

The storm could also jeopardise a key Rugby World Cup match-up between Scotland and Japan on Sunday. Officials are not expected to make a final decision on that match until Sunday morning, after they have assessed any damage to the venue and transport links.

Scotland face elimination if the game is axed and have warned they could take legal action if the game is cancelled. World Rugby called the threat “disappointing”.

The storm has even forced the first-ever all-day typhoon closure of Tokyo’s Disneyland and DisneySea theme parks, with doors shut from Saturday until at least noon on Sunday.

Japan is hit by around 20 typhoons a year, though the capital is not usually badly affected.

Destroyed houses, cars and downed power poles, believed to have been caused by a tornado, are seen as Typhoon Hagibis approaches the Tokyo area in Ichihara on Saturday. (Reuters Photo)

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