by Harumi OZAWA / Miwa SUZUKI
Agence France Presse
TOKYO, Japan (AFP) — At least 26 people were killed by powerful Typhoon Hagibis, local media reported Sunday, a day after the ferocious storm slammed into Japan, unleashing unprecedented rain and catastrophic flooding.
More than 100,000 rescuers, including 31,000 troops, were working into the night to reach people trapped after torrential rain caused landslides and filled rivers until they burst their banks.
The destruction forced the Rugby World Cup to cancel a third tournament match, though a key Japan-Scotland fixture was ruled safe to play.
The storm moved off land on Sunday morning, and while it largely spared the capital, it left a trail of destruction in surrounding regions.
The government put the death toll at 14, with 11 people missing, but local media said at least 26 people had been killed, and at least 15 were still unaccounted for.
Rivers overspilled their banks at nearly a dozen locations, including in central Japan’s Nagano, where a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor.
Military and fire department helicopters winched survivors from roofs and balconies in several locations. In Iwaki City, Fukushima, a rescue went tragically awry when a woman died after falling while she was being winched to safety.
Elsewhere, rescue workers carried out an hours-long boat operation to evacuate hundreds of people from a retirement home in Kawagoe, northwest of Tokyo, which was flooded up to its top floor.
One elderly woman wearing an orange life vest was brought out from a boat on the back of a hard-hat wearing rescuer. Others were hoisted onto wheelchairs and pushed along a muddy shore on arrival by boat.
Hagibis smashed into the main Japanese island of Honshu on Saturday night as one of the most violent typhoons in recent years, with wind gusts of up to 216 kilometres per hour (134 miles per hour).
– ‘Please do your best’ –
The storm claimed its first victim even before making landfall, when high winds flipped a vehicle, killing its driver.
Landslides and flooding claimed more lives overnight, and the toll climbed higher after sunrise on Sunday, as the scale of the devastation wrought by Hagibis became clear.
Bodies were retrieved from submerged homes and vehicles, from raging overflowing rivers, and from buildings buried in landslides.
The dead included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and two Chinese crew members aboard a boat that sank overnight in Tokyo Bay.
Four of the crew were rescued, but authorities were still searching for another six.
“The government will do its utmost,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, vowing that rescue efforts would run through the night.
“Please do your best,” he told a disaster management meeting.
More than 110,000 homes were still without power by Sunday evening, with others experiencing water outages.
At the storm’s peak, more than seven million people were placed under non-compulsory evacuation orders, and over 135,000 people were still in government shelters by Sunday evening.
The storm prompted the Japan Meteorological Agency to issue its highest-level rain disaster warning, saying “unprecedented” downpours were expected.
– ‘I don’t know where to start’ –
“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.
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 produce.
“We never had a flood like this before in this neighbourhood,” said one farmer, who declined to give his name.
“I don’t know where to start cleaning this mess.”
The storm brought travel chaos during a long holiday weekend in Japan, grounding flights and halting local and bullet train services.
On Sunday, train services began resuming and operations also slowly restarted at the two airports serving the capital, although many flights were cancelled.
But some lines remained halted, with aerial footage in Nagano showing rows of bullet trains partially submerged by flooding.
The storm also caused havoc for the sports world, delaying Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and forcing the cancellation of two Saturday Rugby World Cup matches.
On Sunday morning, organisers cancelled a third fixture — Namibia-Canada — but gave the go-ahead to three others including a crunch Japan-Scotland game in Yokohama, near Tokyo.
Scotland faced elimination if the match was cancelled and had threatened legal action if it was not played.
© Agence France-Presse