x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Thousands left stranded after Japan's most deadly typhoon in seven years

Typhoon Talas, which brought heavy winds and rainfall to the country's southern areas on Saturday night, has killed at least 32 people and left 57 missing.

Volunteer firefighters search destroyed houses for missing people after heavy downpours by Typhoon Talas caused a landslide at Tanabe, central Japan, on Sunday.
Volunteer firefighters search destroyed houses for missing people after heavy downpours by Typhoon Talas caused a landslide at Tanabe, central Japan, on Sunday.

Rescuers yesterday tried to reach thousands left stranded after Japan suffered its most deadly typhoon damage in seven years.

Typhoon Talas, which brought heavy winds and rainfall to the country's southern areas on Saturday night, has killed at least 32 people and left 57 missing.

It struck almost six months after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the north-east of the country.

About 21,000 were killed or remain missing from the March disasters, which resulted in the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Television pictures of the devastation caused by Talas showed scenes that echoed the horror of those after the March 11 tsunami, with neighbourhoods flooded and cars tossed around like children's toys.

Houses have been buried by mudslides, while bridges and railways have been torn apart.

At least 3,600 people remained cut off from rescue efforts yesterday after roads and bridges were damaged.

One village received more rainfall from the typhoon than the 1,528 millimetres Tokyo records in an average year.

With more than 750 members of Japan's military sent to the worst-hit prefectures, the country's new prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, who only took office on Friday, insisted the authorities were sparing no effort in dealing with the crisis.

"We will do our best in saving lives and finding the missing," he said.

Police and firefighters also tried to reach those left stranded, in some cases pulling people out of their houses with ropes.

Many of the missing are thought likely to be buried by mud.

Amid the large-scale destruction, which officials said would take months to rebuild, were countless individual tragedies.

Among the most poignant was that suffered by Shinichi Teramoto, the mayor of a small town called Nachikatsuura in Wakayama, the worst-hit prefecture.

Rescuers found the body of his 24-year-old daughter, Saki Teramoto, who went missing on Saturday, a day before her engagement ceremony was due to be held.

Mr Teramoto's wife, Masako, 51, is still missing.

Mr Teramoto has continued to direct relief operations despite his bereavement, after the town saw much of its infrastructure damaged.

Seiji Yamamoto, an official in Wakayama prefecture, said "there are so many roads out it is hard to count them all".

"Hundreds of homes have been flooded," he added.

Nearly half a million people were ordered out of or advised to leave their homes ahead of the arrival of the typhoon, which caused greatest damage in the southern island of Shikoku and in southern parts of the main island, Honshu.

Yesterday, 100,000 people were still covered by evacuation advisories.

Talas - named after the Philippine word for "sharpness" - was downgraded to a tropical storm and on Sunday had moved off into the Sea of Japan. The death toll is likely to be the worst Japan has suffered from a typhoon since 2004, when Typhoon Tokage left 98 people dead or missing.

Parts of Japan are especially susceptible to flooding after heavy rainfall because of their hilly terrain, said Limin Zhang, a flooding specialist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

There are "really rapid and short rivers which ... run into areas [that] might be susceptible to flooding", he said.

Typhoon Talas struck just as Japan had was focusing on the possibility of natural disasters of a different kind. On Thursday, the country held its first nationwide earthquake drill since the earthquake and tsunami in March.

dbardsley@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse