Japan Typhoon Wipha kills 17 people

credit: theguardian.com

(BBC) At least 17 people have been killed after a powerful typhoon lashed Japan’s eastern coast.

An island south of Tokyo, Izu Oshima, was worst hit by Typhoon Wipha, suffering landslides and flooding.

Many people died when houses collapsed or were buried in mudslides. At least 50 people remain unaccounted for.

Work to protect the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant was carried out but the operators say it appears to have escaped the worst of the storm.

In Tokyo, flights were cancelled, bullet train services suspended and schools closed.

map shows path of typhoon

“It is the strongest typhoon in 10 years to pass the Kanto [Tokyo area] region,” Hiroyuki Uchida, the Japan Meteorological Agency’s chief forecaster, told journalists on Tuesday.

Typhoon Wipha has now been downgraded to a tropical storm as it moves north-east.

‘Crackling sound’

The storm brought strong winds and record rainfall on Wednesday morning.

Nearly 5 inches (12cm) of rainfall fell in just one hour on Izu Oshima island, some 120km (75 miles) south of Tokyo.

The storm sent large volumes of earth down mountainsides and caused rivers to burst their banks.

Television footage showed the remains of wooden homes buried in mud and covered in debris.

Houses in a residential area in Oshima are buried by mudslides after a powerful typhoon hit Izu Oshima island on 16 October 2013
Houses were buried in mudslides triggered by the rain
Several houses in a residential area  are covered by debris from mudslides after a powerful typhoon hit Izu Oshima island on 16 October 2013
Rescuers were struggling to access some areas, reports said
People walk against strong wind and rain in Tokyo on 16 October 2013
In the capital, the storm led to train services and flights being cancelled

“I heard a crackling sound and then the trees on the hillside all fell over,” a woman on the island told national broadcaster NHK television. “Then mud slid as far as the house.”

Japanese media said the death toll had risen to 16 but 51 people remained unaccounted for on Izu Oshima.

Rescuers were struggling to access many areas, local reports said.

“City hall and fire officials are doing rescue work in places that are accessible,” a local official told AFP news agency.

Extra police officers and soldiers as well as helicopters have been sent to the island – a popular tourist destination with more than 8,000 residents – to help with the rescue effort.

In Tokyo, a woman died after falling in a river and a search was under way for two young boys last seen on a beach, reports said.

About 400 domestic and international flights were also cancelled in the capital, Kyodo news agency said.

Nearly 20,000 people were ordered to leave and thousands of schools shut as a result of the typhoon, Reuters news agency reported.

Around midday (03:00 GMT), the typhoon passed close to Fukushima, where contaminated water used to cool reactor cores is being stored in temporary tanks.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company said it had to pump out rain water from around the storage tanks, but added that its radiation readings were within a safe limit.

The storm had caused the plant no new problems, a spokesman said.