Powerful Typhoon Hagibis slammed into Japan on Saturday, killing one even before making landfall and prompting authorities to issue their highest level of disaster warning over “unprecedented” downpours.
More than 7.3 million people were placed under non-compulsory evacuation orders as officials reported serious flooding and several landslides that left at least three people missing. More than 30 were injured, four seriously.
Even before making landfall, Hagibis 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 crashed into Japan’s main Honshu island just before 7:00pm local time (1000GMT), barrelling into Izu, a peninsula southwest of Tokyo, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said.
The storm has weakened, but was still packing gusts of wind up to 216 kilometres per hour (134 miles per hour) around an hour before the central eye hit the shore.
And it claimed its first victim hours before arriving on the coast, when strong winds from its outer bands flipped a car in Chiba east of Tokyo and killed the driver.
But it was Hagibis’ torrential rain that prompted the JMA to issue their highest-level emergency warning for parts of Tokyo and the surrounding areas, warning of disaster.
– ‘Unprecedented’ rains –
“Unprecedented heavy rain has been seen in cities, towns and villages for which the emergency warning was issued,” JMA forecaster Yasushi Kajiwara told reporters.
“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 two landslides were already confirmed, with three people missing in Gunma prefecture north of Tokyo after a landslide destroyed several homes.
By early afternoon, 3.25 million people were under non-mandatory evacuation orders, and thousands of 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.
Just over 50,000 people actually heeded the order to evacuate to shelters.
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.
– Rugby, F1 disrupted –
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.
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.