TOKYO: Tens of thousands of rescuers worked into the night Monday to find survivors of a powerful typhoon in Japan that killed at least 56 people, as fresh rain threatened to hamper their efforts.
Typhoon Hagibis crashed into the country on Saturday night, unleashing high winds and torrential rain across 36 of the country’s 47 prefectures, triggering landslides and catastrophic flooding.
The death toll from the disaster has risen steadily, with national broadcaster NHK saying Monday night that 56 people had been killed and 15 were still missing.
It cited its own tally based on local reporting. The government has given lower numbers but is still updating its information.
“Even now, many people are still unaccounted for in the disaster-hit area,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency disaster meeting on Monday.
“Units are trying their best to search for and rescue them, working day and night,” Abe said.
Later in the day, he pledged to “do whatever the country can” for victims and survivors, ordering the defence ministry to call up to 1,000 reserve troops to join 31,000 active forces in search operations.
But rescue work that was continuing into the night risked being hampered by additional rain falling in central and eastern Japan that officials warned could cause fresh flooding and landslides.
“I would like to ask people to stay fully vigilant and continue watching for landslides and river flooding,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.
In Nagano, one of the worst-hit regions, officials said they were working cautiously.
“We are concerned about the impact of the latest rain on rescue and recovery efforts,” local official Hiroki Yamaguchi told AFP.
“We will continue operations while watching out for secondary disasters due to the current rain.”
– 56 dead, 15 missing: NHK –
The death toll continued to rise into Monday evening, with bodies pulled from flooded cars and homes, swollen rivers and landslides.
The casualties included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and at least seven crew from a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo Bay on Saturday night, a coast guard spokesman said.
Four others, from China, Myanmar and Vietnam, were rescued when the boat sank and the coast guard was still searching for a last crew member.
Hagibis packed wind gusts of up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, but it was the heavy rains that caused the most damage.
A total of 176 rivers flooded — mainly in eastern and northern Japan — with their banks collapsing in two dozen places, local media said.
In central Nagano, a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor.
Television footage from the area showed patients being transferred by ambulance from a Nagano hospital where some 200 people had been cut off by flooding.
Elsewhere, rescuers used helicopters to winch survivors from roofs and balconies, or steered boats through muddy waters to reach those trapped.
By Monday afternoon, some 75,900 households remained without power, with water cut off to 135,000 homes.
The disaster left tens of thousands of people in shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.
“Everything from my house was washed away before my eyes, I wasn’t sure if it was a dream or real,” a woman in Nagano told NHK.
“I feel lucky I’m still alive.”
The storm brought travel chaos over the holiday weekend, grounding flights and halting commuter and bullet train services.
By Monday, most subway trains had resumed service, along with many bullet train lines, and flights had also restarted.
The storm also brought havoc to the sporting world, forcing the delay of Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and the cancellation of three Rugby World Cup matches.
But a crucial decider pitting Japan against Scotland went ahead, with the hosts dedicating their stunning 28-21 win to the victims of the disaster.
“To everyone that’s suffering from the typhoon, this game was for you guys,” said Japan captain Michael Leitch.