Typhoon Hagibis

Rescue efforts underway

Helicopters plucked people from their flooded homes on Sunday as rescue efforts went into full force following Typhoon Hagibis, which drenched Tokyo and surrounding areas and left at least 19 dead and 16 missing, report agencies.

Public broadcaster NHK gave a higher toll than the government, reporting at least 10 dead and 16 missing plus 128 injured a day after Hagibis, one of the strongest storms to hit Japan in decades, made landfall south of Tokyo and moved northward. “The major typhoon has caused immense damage far and wide in eastern Japan,” a government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters on Sunday, adding that 27,000 military troops and other rescue crews were deployed for the operation.

News footage showed a rescue helicopter hovering over a flooded area in Nagano prefecture, where an embankment of the Chikuma river had broken and unleashed sheets of water across residential areas. The helicopter plucked those stranded on the second floor of a home submerged in muddy waters.

Aerial footage showed tractors at work trying to control the flooding. Meanwhile rows of bullet trains were left sitting in a pool of water at a depot. A stretch of Fukushima was also flooded, with only the rooftops of homes visible in some areas. Parts of nearby Miyagi prefecture were also under water. The Tama river, which runs by Tokyo, overflowed its banks.

Authorities lifted rain warnings for the Kanto region around a becalmed Tokyo, where stores reopened and many train lines resumed operations, but they warned there was still the risk of rivers in eastern Japan overflowing and inflicting fresh damage. The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, convened an emergency meeting of relevant ministers and sent the minister in charge of disaster management to the affected areas. He offered condolences to the families of those who were killed and said the government was working to save people’s lives and property.

“The government will do everything in its power to cooperate with relevant agencies and operators working to restore services as soon as possible,” Abe said. The government had also set up a task force to deal with the damage, NHK reported. Authorities warned of a continuing risk of mudslides. Among the reported deaths were those whose homes were buried in landslips. Other fatalities included people who were swept away by raging rivers.

Suga said that damage to housing from the flooding was extensive but promised recovery was on its way. About 376,000 homes were without electricity and 14,000 homes lacked running water, he said. Boats as well as helicopters were sent to the flooded areas, while rescue crews dug through dirt in other areas to try to get people out from homes buried by landslides.

Several train service in the Tokyo area resumed in the early morning while others were undergoing safety checks and expected to restart later on Sunday. Ruling party politician Fumio Kishida said the government would do its utmost in rescue operations, including making sure that those who moved to shelters were taken care of.

He acknowledged Japan’s power grids needrf to be strengthened so people in disaster areas could rely on timely information. “So many risks remain and it is a reality we must stay on guard,” Kishida said on an NHK TV news talk show. “We must do our utmost. In these times a disaster can hit anytime.”

The Rugby World Cup match between Namibia and Canada, scheduled for Sunday in Kamaishi, northern Japan, was canceled as a precautionary measure, but organisers announced that Japan would play Scotland as scheduled on Sunday evening. All matches on Saturday had been cancelled, and stores and amusement parks closed.

As the typhoon bore down on Saturday with heavy rains and strong winds, the usually crowded train stations and streets of Tokyo were deserted, with people advised to stay indoors. But life was quickly returning to normal under crisp clear skies on Sunday. Evacuation centres had been set up in coastal towns, with tens of thousands seeking shelter. Kyodo News service said evacuation warnings had been issued to more than 6 million people.

The typhoon disrupted a three-day weekend in Japan that includes Sports Day on Monday. Qualifying for the Formula One race in Suzuka was pushed from Saturday to Sunday. The authorities had repeatedly warned Hagibis was on par with a typhoon that hit the Tokyo region in 1958. But the safety infrastructure that Japan’s modernisation had brought was apparent. The typhoon six decades ago had left more than 1,200 people dead and half a million houses flooded.