x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Typhoon hits Tokyo and heads towards nuclear site of Fukushima

Six people were dead or missing after being swept away by rivers swollen with rains from Typhoon Roke, which was on its way to toward the tsunami-ravaged northeastern coast and its crippled nuclear plant.

TOKYO // A powerful typhoon buffeted Tokyo with strong winds and rain yesterday, halting trains and stranding tens of thousands of commuters as it barrelled toward the tsunami-ravaged northeastern coast with its crippled nuclear plant.

Police and local media reported that six people were dead or missing after being swept away by rivers swollen with rains from Typhoon Roke. Nearly 260,000 households in central Japan were without electricity, and authorities called for more than a million people to be evacuated in central and eastern Japan.

The storm, packing sustained winds of up to 144kph, made landfall in the afternoon near the city of Hamamatsu, about 200 kilometres west of Tokyo. The centre of the fast-moving storm was passing just north of the capital yesterday and was expected to head towards the north-eastern region of Tohoku devastated by the March 11 tsunami and earthquake.

With commuter trains in the capital suspended, tens of thousands of commuters trying to rush home were stuck at stations across the sprawling city. Fire department officials reported three people were injured in Tokyo. In the trendy shopping district of Shibuya, winds knocked over a tree onto a pavement, but no one was hurt.

Television footage showed pedestrians struggling to walk straight in powerful winds that made umbrellas useless.

Typhoon Roke's projected course was to take it near the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant, where a small amount of radiation is still leaking after three of its reactors melted down when the tsunami cut off power to the plant and its backup generators.

Takeo Iwamoto, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Company, the utility that operates the plant, said the cooling system for the reactors, crucial to keeping them under control, would not be endangered by the typhoon.

He said some construction work around the plant had been cancelled and efforts were under way to prevent leaks of radioactive water and other material from the typhoon.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said over one million people had been ordered or advised to evacuate across the country because of fears of flooding or mudslides triggered by the typhoon.

The city of Nagoya temporarily called off an evacuation warning for 880,000 people when swelling in a major river subsided, but officials said the warning could be reissued if conditions warranted.

Heavy rains caused floods and road damage in dozens of locations in Nagoya and several other cities, the Aichi prefectural (state) government said. Parts of Japan's central city of Nagoya, about 170 miles (270 kilometres) west of Tokyo, were flooded near swollen rivers where rescue workers helped residents evacuate in rubber boats.

Police in nearby Gifu prefecture said a 9-year-old boy and an 84-year-old man were missing after apparently falling into swollen rivers.

More than 200 domestic flights were cancelled and some bullet train services were suspended.

A typhoon that slammed Japan earlier this month left about 90 people dead or missing.