Japan launches major search operation after deadly typhoon kills dozens

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A major search and rescue operation is underway in Japan after deadly Typhoon Hagibis brought widespread flooding and landslides, destroying buildings and leaving dozens dead.The storm which came as Japan hosts the Rugby World Cup for the first time — made landfall on Saturday evening local time on the Izu Peninsula, southwest of Tokyo, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

At least 49 people were killed, with 200 injured and at least 14 people still missing, the country’s public broadcaster NHK reported on Monday October 14. More than 110,000 personnel are involved in search and rescue operations, including 13,000 police, 66,000 fire department staff and 31,000 self-defense force staff, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a press conference Monday.

A volunteer helps clean up Monday, October 14, 2019, in Kawagoe City, Japan.
A volunteer helping clean up on Monday October 14 in Kawagoe City, Japan

A volunteer helps clean up Monday, October 14, 2019, in Kawagoe City, Japan.One of those killed was a 77-year-old woman who fell 40 meters (131 feet) during a helicopter rescue operation in Iwaki City, Fukushima prefecture, on Sunday morning, Tokyo Fire Department press officer Yuji Kikuchi said. Rescuers had failed to properly attach a hook to the harness as the woman was being pulled onto the helicopter.

“We apologize from the bottom of our heart,” Hirofumi Shimizu, the deputy chief of Tokyo Fire Department, said in a press conference on Sunday. “We will try our best not to have this happen again and to recover trust to us.”More than230,000 people were evacuated before start of the storm, and emergency orders were issued for many cities around the greater Tokyo area. As of Monday, more than 84,000 households in Tokyo, northern Japan and mountainous areas in the center of the country were still without power, according to electricity companies.

A man sorts through the debris of a building that was destroyed by a tornado shortly before the arrival of Typhoon Hagibis, on October 13, 2019 in Chiba, Japan.
A man sorts through debris of a building that was destroyed by a tornado shortly before the arrival of Typhoon Hagibis on October 13

Typhoon-hit regions are bracing for more rain on Monday which could exacerbate flooding, prompting authorities to caution people to stay away from rivers and mountain slopes.Video released by authorities and shared online showed the extent of the devastation in Japan.One clip shows a helicopter hovering over a house surrounded by murky water as rescuers pull a person to safety in Fukushima prefecture. Another shows people being rescued on an inflatable raft which appears to be floating on a water-logged street.A separate clip taken on Sunday shows debris floating down a swollen river in Saku city, in Nagano prefecture.

Fukushima material

On Saturday, ten bags of soil from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster were found drifting in a river amid storm debris in Tamura city, about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

In this aerial image, Hokuriku Shinkansen train depot is submerged after river banks of Chikumagawa River collapse by the rain triggered by Typhoon Hagibis on October 13, 2019 in Nagano, Japan.
In this aerial image, Shinkansen train depot is submerged after the river banks of Chikumagawa River in Nagano, Japan

Following a March 2011 earthquake, three reactors at the Fukushima plant melted down, releasing radioactive materials into the air and prompting more than 100,000 people to be evacuated from the area. A total of 2,667 large, thick plastic bags containing contaminated materials from the disaster were being stored at a temporary storage site in Tamura while authorities looked for a more permanent location. Each bag weighs upwards of several 100 kilograms (220 pounds) according to NHK.

On Saturday, local public works contractors found six of the bags drifting in a river. Another four were found by government officials. On Monday, Fukushima prefecture decontamination spokesperson Akira Suzuki could not say whether more bags had washed away over the weekend.

“We are confirming how many are gone as well as searching for any other bags washed away,” Suzuki said.

Shoji Watanabe, the head of nuclear disaster measurement office, said the radiation levels of the material in the bags had decreased over time. However, he refused to say that the bags were entirely safe.He estimated that the radiation level from the material contained in each bag was between 0.3 to 1 microsievert per hour — over the government standard of 0.23 microsievert per hour.

Police officers and fire fighters carry a dead body on a street after the flood in Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture Monday, October 14.
Japan Police officers and fire fighters carry a dead body on a street after the flood in Koriyama City, Fukushima

Rugby World Cup

The typhoon comes as Japan hosts the Rugby World Cup for the first time. Three matches were canceled over the weekend, prompting criticism that the tournament appeared unprepared for the extreme weather, despite the event being held during typhoon season.

An upturned car lies next to a partially destroyed house after being hit by a tornado shortly before the arrival of Typhoon Hagibis, on October 13, 2019 in Chiba, Japan.
An upturned car lies next to a partially destroyed house after being hit by a tornado shortly before the arrival of Typhoon Hagibis

A pivotal Pool A match between Japan and Scotland did go ahead, with the host nation going on to secure a place in the quarterfinals for the first time. After a match between Canada and Namibia was canceled, Canadian rugby players helped with the recovery efforts in the coastal city of Kamaishi, prompting praise from the Rugby World Cup organizers.

Record rains and windstorms

Although typhoons are not uncommon in Japan, Typhoon Hagibis — meaning speed in the Philippine language of Tagalog — was particularly brutal. According to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office, the typhoon brought “record-setting heavy rains and windstorms.”

Fire department workers evacuate residents from a flooded area in Kawagoe, Saitama prefecture on October 13, 2019, one day after Typhoon Hagibis swept through central and eastern Japan.
Five department workers evacuate residents from a flooded area in Kawagoe, Saitama on October 13 2019, one day after Typhoon Habigis swept through central and eastern Japan.

Source: CNN Tokyo News

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