Rescuers comb Izu-Oshima mudslide for typhoon survivors

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

Rescuers on Izu-Oshima Island picked through mud and shattered buildings Thursday, the day after Typhoon Wipha killed at least 22 residents, while dozens more whose homes were engulfed by a landslide remain missing.

Hundreds of police officers, firefighters and troops searched through the night in an area where houses were swallowed when a mountainside collapsed.

The strongest typhoon in a decade, Wipha never actually made landfall as it surged past Japan, but powerful winds and torrential rain set off mudslides that buried neighborhoods on Oshima.

At least 22 people died and dozens of people were still missing on the island, which lies 120 km south of Tokyo, according to police.

About 15 police officers used chainsaws and shovels to extricate a 76-year-old woman buried in mud and the smashed remains of a wooden building. She was later confirmed dead.

Elsewhere, some 1,100 rescuers — police, firefighters and Self-Defense Forces troops — who arrived on the island Wednesday morning just hours after it was raked by the storm, fanned out on mountain paths and called out to any survivors.

Spokesman Yoshinori Sano said the men — who had not slept — were “hopeful” of finding survivors among the devastation.

Resident Tadashi Sogi said his house had been carried 30 meters, with much of it engulfed by thick mud.

As he loaded his car with a few salvaged belongings — including a photo album — he said he was going back to join the rescue effort.

“The lives of other people come before all these things,” he said, gesturing to his soiled mementos.

Some of the 8,000 people who live on the island had sought shelter in evacuation centers as the huge storm approached, reporting water gushing into their homes.

But criticism was growing Thursday of the island’s mayor, Masafumi Kawashima, who did not issue an evacuation advisory, despite repeated warnings from meteorologists about the size of the typhoon.

Kawashima, who was away at a conference when the storm hit, told reporters he regretted not having told people to seek safety.

“I’d feared that issuing an evacuation advisory in the middle of heavy rain in the dark could lead to a secondary disaster. But in retrospect, I think that was naive,” he said.

Most of Japan, including Tokyo, was spared the worst of the typhoon, although four other people are still officially missing in the greater Tokyo area.

Two elementary schoolchildren were believed to have been near a beach in Kanagawa Prefecture, and a man in his 50s has not been heard from since alerting authorities to a landslide near his house in Chiba Prefecture.

Flights in and out of Tokyo were back to normal Thursday, after about 400 cancellations Wednesday, affecting more than 60,000 passengers.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    So many people are so wise after the fact! How many of the people whose siren voices are criticizing the mayor now, were speaking to the media as the storm approached making the same remarks about evacuations? None of them. What about the mayors of the other Izu Islands or for that matter of southern Chiba – no 2am evacuations were ordered there either but they got lucky. Hindsight is 20:20 and public officials have a lot of factors to consider before ordering a dangerous evacuation.