At least nine dead in elderly nursing home after typhoon Lionrock tears through northern Japan

Police found the bodies after rushing to the facility to rescue people who were trapped because of flooding caused by the typhoon

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2016, 11:47am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2016, 10:53pm

Surging flood water and mud brought by a devastating typhoon killed nine people in an elderly care home in northern Japan, officials said Wednesday, after the third storm in two weeks ripped through the country.

The bodies were discovered in a riverside care complex half buried in mud, uprooted trees and rubble after Typhoon Lionrock tore through the region, dumping torrential rain over a wide area.

Footage from public broadcaster NHK showed a helicopter hovering over the building in Iwaizumi on the island of Honshu, as rescuers tried to pluck other stranded residents to safety.

A district disaster official said the nine elderly people died as a result of mud that swamped the facility.

“The nearby Omoto river flooded and lots of water mixed with mud, trees and rubble gushed into the building complex,” he said, adding that the nine people “were buried in mud inside the facility building”.

The nine were the only people in that building, he said.

Media reports said the building was reserved for people with dementia and another 86 elderly residents and employees were in another facility building at the time.

Police “are trying to confirm the identities of these bodies”, Shuko Sakamoto, a spokeswoman for police in Iwate prefecture, said.

The death toll from the powerful storm rose to 11 after an elderly woman was found dead in her flooded home nearby, and another body was discovered not far from the nursing home, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.

Aerial footage showed a broad swathe of flooded land, with parked cars half submerged in murky water.

Lionrock slammed into northern Japan on Tuesday evening, dumping heavy rain that caused flooding and triggered power outages.

Japan’s Disaster Medical Assistance Team has sent rescuers to Iwaizumi.

The typhoon, with winds of over 160 kilometres an hour when it made landfall, also caused flooding on the northern island of Hokkaido.

The typhoon was later reclassified as an extratropical cyclone and moved out into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) at midnight, said the Japan Meteorological Agency, eventually moving near the North Korea-China border.

The full scale of damage, however, did not become apparent until daybreak when rescue operations began in earnest.

The nation’s fire and disaster management agency said at least five people were missing in northern Japan following the storm.

In Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands, one person who had been inside a car was missing in the town of Taiki, police and government officials said.

Two other people were separately missing in Hokkaido, while another two were unaccounted for in Iwaizumi, the agency said.

Lionrock’s path - hitting northeastern Japan from the Pacific Ocean - was unusual.

Typhoons usually approach Japan from the south and southwest before moving northward across the archipelago.

Up to eight centimetres of rain per hour fell overnight and authorities had warned of flooding and landslides.

The typhoon’s landfall came at high tide, which exacerbated the flow of water.

Lionrock comes on the heels of two other recent typhoons in the past 10 days that hit eastern and northern Japan, resulting in two deaths, the cancellation of hundreds of domestic flights and disruptions to train services.

The scene of large parts of northern Japan covered with muddy water was a shocking reminder of the major tsunami that struck the same region five years ago.

The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami left more than 18,000 people dead in the wide swaths of Japan’s northern coast, including 340 in Ofunato.

At the Fukushima nuclear power plant, decimated by the 2011 disaster, some outdoor decommissioning work was suspended as a precaution.

Additional reporting by Associated Press