Typhoon Wipha kills 17, but mostly spares Tokyo and nuclear power plant

Seventeen people killed as storm triggers mudslides, but mostly spares capital and does no damage to Fukushima nuclear power plant

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 October, 2013, 11:40am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 10:30am

A typhoon killed 17 people in Japan yesterday, most on an offshore island, but largely spared the capital and caused no new disaster as it brushed by the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power station.

More than 50 people were missing after the "once in a decade" Typhoon Wipha roared up Japan's east coast. About 20,000 people were told to leave their homes because of the danger of flooding and hundreds of flights were cancelled.

Sixteen people were killed on Izu Oshima island, about 120 kilometres south of Tokyo, as rivers burst their banks. The storm set off mudslides along a two-kilometre stretch of mountains.

Television footage showed roads clogged with wreckage and houses with gaping holes smashed into them.

"I heard a crackling sound and then the trees on the hillside all fell over," a woman on Izu Oshima told NHK television.

Yutaka Sagara, a 59-year-old sushi chef on the east coast of the island, said he spent a sleepless night with colleagues at their company housing.

Their hillside apartment barely escaped a mudslide that veered off to the side. Later he found out the mudslide crushed several houses as it flowed to the sea.

"People on this island are somewhat used to heavy rainstorms, but this typhoon was beyond our imagination," he said.

The storm brought hurricane-force winds and drenching rain to the Tokyo metropolitan area of 30 million people at the peak of the morning rush hour.

A woman was swept away by a swollen river in western Tokyo and more than 50 people were missing, the government said..

The operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, Tokyo Electric Power Corp (Tepco), cancelled all offshore work and secured machinery as the storm approached.

Tepco has been struggling to contain radioactive leaks since a 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused major damage and triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

A Tepco spokesman said Typhoon Wipha had caused no new problems at the plant, which is on the coast 220 kilometres north of Tokyo.

The storm dumped heavy rain and it had to be pumped out of protective containers at the base of about 1,000 tanks storing radioactive water, the by-product of a jerry-rigged cooling system designed to control wrecked reactors.

The rainwater was checked for radioactivity and released into the sea, the company spokesman said.

Wipha was downgraded to a tropical depression by late afternoon. It was off the coast of northeastern Japan and moving northeast at 95km/h , the Japan Meteorological Agency said. At its height, it had sustained winds at its centre of 126km/h ( and gusts of up to 180km/h.

More than 500 flights at Tokyo's Haneda and Narita airports were cancelled, and thousands of schools closed. Bullet train services were halted but resumed by Wednesday afternoon.

Two flights between Tokyo and Seoul and another two flights between Tokyo and Hong Kong were among the cancellations.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse