Thousands flee as heavy rains lash Japan and trigger floods
TOKYO // Tens of thousands of people were ordered to flee homes across Japan yesterday as heavy rain pounded the country, sending radiation-tainted waters into the ocean at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.
Waist-high floods in some areas left rescuers scrambling to pluck people to safety as a wide area was deluged in the wake of Typhoon Etau.
“This is a scale of downpour that we have not experienced before. Grave danger could be imminent,” forecaster Takuya Deshimaru told an emergency press conference.
The Japan Meteorological Agency issued special warnings for Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures, north of Tokyo, urging vigilance against mudslides and flooding.
More than a dozen people were injured, including a 77-year-old woman who broke her leg after falling in strong winds, local reports said.
Etau, which smashed into Japan on Wednesday, moved out into the Sea of Japan by the end of the day, but a wall of rain continued to lash the country.
The torrential downpour has also exacerbated a contaminated water problem at the Fukushima nuclear plant as it overwhelmed the site’s drainage pumps, a spokesman for operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) said.
Tepco is storing huge volumes of water used to cool reactors that were sent into meltdown when a tsunami hit Japan in 2011.
Dozens of people were trapped in buildings and several were missing as the floods ripped through parts of Japan.
Military helicopters plucked stranded residents from roofs after waters surged over a wide area when a river burst its banks, swamping a city of 65,000 people.
Dramatic aerial footage showed whole houses being swept away by raging torrents, in scenes eerily reminiscent of the devastating tsunami that crushed Japan’s northeast coast in 2011.
One man was seen clutching a concrete post as waters swirled around him.
Television pictures from Joso, a small city north of Tokyo, showed desperate residents waving towels as they stood on balconies trying to summon assistance.
“Please continue to ask for help. Please don’t give up hope,” an anchorman for public broadcaster NHK told trapped viewers.
There were reports of people missing, including in landslides that buried buildings.
Authorities said they were unable to confirm the total number of people unaccounted for.
By early evening, police, firefighters and troops had rescued at least 260 people from houses in Joso City and surrounding areas, Jiji Press news agency said.
But an estimated 200 people were still trapped in their homes or other buildings, including a day care centre and a seniors’ home, Jiji said.
The meteorological observatory in Tochigi said the Kinugawa river, which also runs through Ibaraki, overflowed early Thursday.
“I’ve never seen the Kinugawa river burst its banks,” 63-year-old Joso resident Akira Yoshihara said.
“My house is on higher ground but I’m worried the water may reach it tonight.”
Tochigi authorities ordered more than 90,000 residents to evacuate, while another 116,000 were advised to leave their homes, public broadcaster NHK said.
In Ibaraki prefecture, at least 20,000 were ordered to evacuate for fears of floodings, NHK said.
Prime minister Shinzo Abe said the government was on high alert.
“The government will stand united and do its best to deal with the disaster ... by putting its highest priority on people’s lives,” Mr Abe said.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: September 10, 2015 04:00 AM