Japan sends in thousands of troops after Typhoon Hagibis hammers Tokyo

Japan sends in thousands of troops after Typhoon Hagibis hammers Tokyo

A resident is rescued by a Japan Self-Defence Force helicopter as the house is submerged in waters
A resident is rescued by a Japan Self-Defence Force helicopter as the house is submerged in muddy waters after an embankment of the Chikuma River broke because of Typhoon Hagibis, in Nagano on Oct 13, 2019. (Photo: Yohei Kanasashi/Kyodo News via AP)

NAGANO, Japan: Japan sent tens of thousands of troops and rescue workers on Sunday (Oct 13) to save stranded residents and fight floods caused by one of the worst typhoons to hit the country in recent history.

At least 30 people were killed in the typhoon that left vast sections of towns under water, public broadcaster NHK said. Another 15 were missing and 177 injured by Typhoon Hagibis, which paralysed Tokyo on Saturday and dumped record levels of rain around Japan. About 100,000 homes were left without power.

Rescue efforts were hindered after more than 20 rivers in central and northeastern Japan burst their banks and dozens more overflowed although their banks were still in tact, NHK said, adding that flooding rivers could cause more damage.

Evacuation centres filled with residents, while some people perished as they sought shelter, NHK said, adding a 77-year-old woman fell about 40 metres to her death during an airlift.

Some of the worst damage hit Nagano city, central Japan, where the Chikuma River burst its banks, inundating large swaths of land in brown water and forcing military helicopters to airlift stranded people from homes.

At one evacuation centre there, Kiyokazu Shimokawa, 71, said he waited all night with his wife and mother until they were finally rescued around 3pm (2pm Singapore time) on Sunday.

“I made the mistake of figuring that as long as we were on the second floor of the house, we’d be fine,” he told Reuters. “When we realised that maybe we should evacuate, it was too late – the water rose very quickly.”

Rie Hasegawa, a woman in her 30s, said she never imagined her landlocked town would face a water-related disaster, recounting how shocked she was at how fast it all happened.

"The force of the water was incredible. It was dark, frightening, and I thought this might be the end," she said.

27,000 RESCUERS DEPLOYED

Hagibis, which means "speed" in the Philippine language Tagalog, made landfall on Japan's main island of Honshu on Saturday evening and headed out to sea early on Sunday, leaving behind cloudless skies and high temperatures across the country.

The storm sank a Panama-registered cargo ship that had anchored near Tokyo. The sunken ship was located early on Sunday. A newspaper reported that at least five of the 12 crew were dead and three were missing.

READ: Typhoon Hagibis - Tokyo, central Japan left devastated

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe convened an emergency meeting of relevant ministers and sent the minister in charge of disaster management to affected areas.

"The government will do everything in its power to cooperate with relevant agencies and operators working to restore services as soon as possible," he said. The government set up a task force to deal with the damage.

"I extend my condolences for all those who lost their lives and offer my sympathy to all those impacted by Typhoon No.19 (Hagibis)," Abe said.

"With respect to blackouts, water outage and suspension of transportation services, we intend to exert all-out efforts for the earliest recovery ... we ask the public to remain vigilant of landslides and other hazards," he said.

Some 27,000 members of Japan's self-defence forces as well as firefighters, police and coast guard members were sent to rescue stranded people in central Japan's Nagano prefecture and elsewhere, the government said.

Some came in helicopters who winched people from the roofs and balconies of flooded homes.

FLOODS, LANDSLIDES

Damaged houses caused by weather patterns from Typhoon Hagibis are seen in Ichihara
Damaged houses caused by weather patterns from Typhoon Hagibis are seen in Ichihara, Chiba prefecture on October 12, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Jiji Press)

NHK said overflowing rivers could inflict more damage as waters had reached dangerously high levels.

With thousands of homes without power, Japanese feared a repeat of the weeks-long power outages after last month's typhoon that hit east of Tokyo.

In Fukushima, north of the capital, Tokyo Electric Power reported irregular readings from sensors monitoring water in its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant overnight. The plant was crippled by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Tepco spokeswoman Emi Iwasa said the typhoon triggered 11 leak alerts at the plant. Of those, eight were confirmed as being triggered by rainwater and the rest were still being investigated. Iwasa said the operator had so far not confirmed if any radioactive water leaked into sea.

Landing restrictions at Tokyo's Narita and Haneda airports were lifted but more than 800 flights were cancelled for the day, NHK said, as were some Shinkansen bullet train services to the worst-hit areas.

READ: Japan's capital braces for what could be worst typhoon in 60 years

READ: Magnitude 5.7 earthquake strikes off Japan's Chiba prefecture

NHK showed fields and vast residential areas in parts of central and eastern Japan covered in brown water, with some of the worst damage caused by Chikuma river in Nagano prefecture.

The storm claimed its first victim even before making landfall, when high winds flipped a vehicle, killing its driver.

The first floor of a large aged care home in Nagano city was shown under water.

Rescuers took residents from another flooded aged care facility by inflatable boats and carried them on their backs to safety. 

A boat patrol searches a residential area flooded by Typhoon Hagibis.
Rescue efforts are underway in Japan for people people trapped in submerged houses in Tokyo and central Japan after the region was hit by Typhoon Hagibis on Saturday Oct 12, 2019. (Photo: AP)

They also searched for survivors in homes destroyed in landslides near Tokyo's suburbs and in Fukushima prefecture, NHK showed.

"GREAT IMPACT"

Bodies were retrieved from homes and vehicles submerged by floodwaters, from raging overflowing rivers, and from buildings buried in landslides.

NHK said overflowing rivers could inflict more damage as waters had reached dangerously high levels.

"We continue to see a great impact on people's life," Mr Abe said.

"The government will do its utmost," he added, pledging to deploy more troops and emergency officials if needed.

Houses are submerged after Typhoon Hagibis hit the area in Ashikaga, north of Tokyo, Japan
Houses are submerged after Typhoon Hagibis hit the area in Ashikaga, north of Tokyo, Japan, Sunday, Oct 13, 2019. (Photo: Takuya Inaba/Kyodo News via AP

Authorities at one point issued evacuation advisories and orders for more than 6 million people across Japan as the storm unleashed the heaviest rain and winds in years. Close to 150 injuries have been reported so far, NHK said.

The storm, which the government said could be the strongest to hit Tokyo since 1958, brought record-breaking rainfall in many areas, including the popular resort town of Hakone, which was hit with 939.5 mm of rain over 24 hours.

Typhoon Hagibis brought "unprecedented" rain to large parts of Japan
Typhoon Hagibis brought "unprecedented" rain to large parts of Japan AFP/Anne-Christine POUJOULAT

"The water came up higher than my head in the house," Hajime Tokuda, a finance professional living in Kawasaki near Tokyo told AFP.

He moved to his family's home nearby, but that flooded too and they had to be rescued by boat.

A shopkeeper clears floodwaters from his shop in the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis in Kawasaki
A shopkeeper clears floodwaters from his shop in the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis in Kawasaki on Oct 13, 2019. (Photo: AFP / William West)

In Saitama's Higashi Matsuyama city, northwest of Tokyo, rice and flower farmers were counting their losses, with water submerging warehouses full of freshly harvested product.

"We never had a flood like this before in this neighbourhood," said one farmer, who declined to give his name.

"We cannot even go into the flower warehouse due to the water. I don't know where to start cleaning this mess."

The Japan Meteorological Agency had issued the highest alert level for 12 prefectures, warning of the potential for once-in-decades rain totals, but lifted them early on Sunday.

Spectators who evacuate from Typhoon Hagibis, gather at a makeshift accommodation
Spectators who evacuate from Typhoon Hagibis, gather at a makeshift accommodation for spectators of Formula One Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, central Japan on Oct 12, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Kim Hong-ji)

Just last month, another strong storm, Typhoon Faxai, destroyed or damaged 30,000 houses in Chiba, east of Tokyo, and caused extensive power outages.

The Rugby World Cup match between Namibia and Canada in Kamaishi on Sunday was cancelled.

The crucial Japan-Scotland match went ahead, with the home team beating Scotland 28-21, sending them to their first quarter-finals in history.

Rugby: Japan advance to first World Cup quarter-final with Scotland win

READ: Canadian players help typhoon recovery efforts in Japan

Two matches were cancelled on Saturday.

Formula One Grand Prix organisers had also cancelled all practice and qualifying sessions scheduled for Saturday.

Source: Reuters/AFP/hm

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