A typhoon caused deadly mudslides that buried people and destroyed homes on a Japanese island Wednesday before sweeping up the Pacific coast, grounding hundreds of flights and disrupting Tokyo’s transportation during the morning rush. At least 17 deaths were reported and nearly 50 people were missing.
Hardest hit was Izu Oshima island about 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Tokyo. Rescuers found 13 bodies, most of them buried by mudslides, police and town officials said. Dozens of homes were destroyed, and more than 50 people are missing. “We have no idea how bad the extent of damage could be,” town official Hinani Uematsu said.
One woman from Tokyo died after falling into a river and being washed 10 kilometres (6 miles) downriver to Yokohama, police said. Two sixth-grade boys and another person were missing on Japan’s main island, Honshu, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.
More than 350 homes have been damaged or destroyed, including 283 on Izu Oshima, it said.
Typhoon Wipha, which stayed offshore in the Pacific, had sustained winds of 126 kilometres per hour (78 mph) with gusts up to 180 kph.
More than 80 centimetres (30 inches) of rain fell on Izu Oshima during a 24-hour period ending Wednesday morning, a record since record keeping began in 1991.
The rainfall was particularly heavy before dawn, the kind in which “you can’t see anything or hear anything,” Japan Meteorological Agency official Yoshiaki Yano said.
Izu Oshima is the largest island in the Izu chain southwest of Tokyo. It has one of Japan’s most active volcanoes, Mount Mihara, and is a major base for growing camellias. About 8,200 people live on the island, which is accessible by ferry from Tokyo.
As a precaution, the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, crippled by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, released tons of rainwater that were being held behind protective barriers around storage tanks for radioactive water. Tokyo Electric Power Co. said only water below an allowable level of radioactivity was released, which Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority allowed Tuesday. During an earlier typhoon in September, rainwater spilled out before it could be tested.