One dead as 'unprecedented' Typhoon Hagibis nears Japan

12 October 2019 - 13:47
By AFP
Destroyed houses, cars and power poles, which according to local media were believed to be caused by a tornado, are seen as Typhoon Hagibis approaches the Tokyo area in Ichihara, east of Tokyo, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on October 12 2019.
Image: Kyodo/via REUTERS Destroyed houses, cars and power poles, which according to local media were believed to be caused by a tornado, are seen as Typhoon Hagibis approaches the Tokyo area in Ichihara, east of Tokyo, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on October 12 2019.

Powerful Typhoon Hagibis roared towards Japan's coast on Saturday, killing one person and bringing "unprecedented" downpours that prompted authorities to issue their highest-level rain disaster warning.

More than 3.2-million people have been placed under non-compulsory evacuation orders as authorities warn of imminent flood and landslide danger after hours of torrential rains.

Even before making landfall, Hagibis has caused enormous disruption, forcing the cancellation of two Rugby World Cup matches, delaying the Japanese Grand Prix and grounding all flights in the Tokyo region.

It is forecast to crash into land in central or eastern Japan early Saturday evening local time, packing maximum gusts of 216 kilometres per hour, Japan's Meteorological Agency (JMA) said.

But hours before the worst of the storm arrived, its outer bands claimed the first casualty in Chiba, east of Tokyo, where a man was killed when high winds flipped his car.

Hours of torrential rain prompted the JMA to issue their highest-level emergency rain warning for heavy rain for parts of Tokyo and surrounding areas.

"Unprecedented heavy rain has been seen in cities, towns and villages for which the emergency warning was issued," JMA forecaster Yasushi Kajiwara said at a press briefing.

"The possibility is extremely high that disasters such as landslides and floods have already occurred. It is important to take action that can help save your lives."

At least one landslide was already confirmed, engulfing three homes in Sagamihara, southwest of Tokyo, where an elderly man was rescued.

Hagibis is forecast to be the first storm rated "very strong" to hit the main island of Honshu since 1991, when the category system was introduced, a JMA official said.

By early afternoon, 3.25-million people were under non-mandatory evacuation orders, and more than 13,500 people had moved to shelters, including some whose homes were damaged by a powerful typhoon that hit the region last month.

"I evacuated because my roof was ripped off by the other typhoon and rain came in. I'm so worried about my house," a 93-year-old man told national broadcaster NHK as he sheltered at a centre in Tateyama in Chiba east of Tokyo.

Power outages

Hours before the storm neared land, its outer bands brought tornado-like gusts of wind to Chiba, east of Tokyo, where one home was destroyed and several damaged.

Five people including a three-year-old boy were sent to hospital, but none suffered serious injuries, the local fire department told AFP.

In Gotemba, west of Tokyo, the fire department said it had rescued one man who fell into a swollen canal but was still searching for a second man.

The JMA has forecast half a metre of rain for the Tokyo area in the 24 hours to midday on Sunday, with more for the central Tokai region, but many rivers were already close to breaching their banks by Saturday afternoon.

Thousands of homes in Tokyo and the surrounding areas lost power, though in some cases only briefly, with crews working to reconnect people as quickly as possible.

Automakers, including Toyota and Honda, have shut down their factories, and many supermarkets and convenience stores in the capital have closed, a day after residents shopping for typhoon supplies emptied the shelves.

Rugby, F1 disrupted

The storm has forced the delay of Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers scheduled for Saturday and the cancellation of two Rugby World Cup matches: England-France and New Zealand-Italy.

It could also jeopardise a key match-up between Scotland and Japan on Sunday. Officials are not expected to make a final decision on that game until Sunday morning, after they have assessed any damage to the venue and transport links.

Scotland face elimination if the match is axed and have warned they could take legal action if the game is cancelled. World Rugby called the threat "disappointing".

Japan is hit by around 20 typhoons a year, though the capital is not usually badly affected.

Hagibis is bearing down on the region just weeks after Typhoon Faxai hit the area with similar strength, killing two and causing major damage in Chiba.