Typhoon heads out to sea, leaving at least one dead

Kyodo, AP, AFP-JIJI

At least one person was dead and six were missing Monday as a strong typhoon whipped through the Tokyo metropolitan area after making landfall further south, bringing torrential rain and strong winds to the Kanto region.

Typhoon Phanfone, the 18th of the season, headed out to sea and was expected to weaken to an extratropical depression off Japan’s northern Pacific coast, the Meteorological Agency said.

A total of 39 people in 17 prefectures were injured, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

Police continued their search for two men who went missing due to mudslides in Yokohama and a junior high school boy who was swamped by waves in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

About 2.7 million people in eight prefectures were advised to evacuate, while more than 50,000 were given actual orders to leave. Among them were residents on Izu-Oshima Island, where heavy rains caused deadly mudslides in October last year.

The evacuation orders were lifted as of Monday night.

At 6 p.m., the typhoon was quickly moving east-northeast in the Pacific east of Japan, with an atmospheric pressure of 980 hectopascals at its center, according to the Meteorological Agency.

The typhoon triggered the cancelation of more than 600 flights and the suspension of about 100 runs on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line, affecting more than 100,000 people.

Commuter trains saw delays and suspensions as well, disrupting the morning rush hour.

The agency issued warnings for strong winds, mudslides and river flooding as the typhoon broke rainfall records in some areas.

The city of Shizuoka got 87 mm per hour in Aoi Ward, while Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, got 72 mm — both local records.

In Shizuoka Prefecture, 267,000 households comprising 667,000 people had been urged to evacuate to safer ground as of 9:30 a.m., the prefectural government said.

In Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, more than 4,600 people were urged by authorities to flee to avoid river flooding.

The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, plagued by radiation-tainted water, was bracing to receive 50 mm of rain per hour. Tokyo Electric Power Co. halted work both on land and at sea, bundling cables and hoses and tying down heavy machinery.

“We are also patrolling and checking where water may flow in,” a Tepco spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the search for the bodies of at least 12 hikersbelieved to be lying on the still-smouldering Mount Ontake was suspended. Rescue workers have already been retrieved 51 bodies.

The volcano was packed with climbers during the surprise eruption on Sept. 27 — Japan’s deadliest in almost 90 years. Nearly 1,000 Self-Defense Forces personnel, firefighters and police were participating in a search made all the more treacherous by toxic gases still rising from the peak, as well as a knee-deep layer of sticky ash.

“We want to resume operations as soon as possible when weather permits,” said an official with the Nagano Prefecture crisis management office. Mount Ontake straddles Nagano and Gifu prefectures.

People living below the mountain were warned that the downpour could dislodge the layers of ash, causing mudslides. On Sunday, three U.S. airmen on Okinawa Island were washed away by the typhoon. One was found dead and the other two remain missing, according to the U.S. Air Force and the Japan Coast Guard.

The airmen were photographing the rough weather on the island’s northern coast when they were overcome by the waves, according to Tsuguyoshi Miyagi of the Coast Guard’s Okinawa branch.

The U.S. Air Force said the search had been interrupted by rough seas. Their names were being withheld pending notification of relatives.

“Three officials were taking pictures with high waves whipped up by the typhoon in the background,” a spokesman from the municipal police said early Monday.

A 21-year-old surfer also went missing in the waters off Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

Okinawa is home to about half of the roughly 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan.

Several people in Kyushu were injured by the typhoon as the storm grounded more than 100 flights Sunday and knocked out power to more than 9,500 homes.

In Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, a French driver was severely injured in an accident in the Japanese Grand Prix, which had to be shortened as the heavy rain made conditions too dangerous. Formula One driver Jules Bianchi of the Marussia team went off the track at a turn and hit a recovery vehicle that was removing a car that had crashed earlier.

An unconscious Bianchi was taken to a nearby hospital where he underwent emergency surgery for a severe head injury. Race officials said he was in critical condition.

Elsewhere in the Pacific, the 19th typhoon of the season whipped the Mariana Islands, including Guam, with high winds and heavy rain.

Typhoon Vongfong was expected to reach an area of the sea southeast of Okinawa around early Saturday.

In the Marianas, the eye of the typhoon skirted the small island of Rota. Power outages and minor flooding were reported in some areas Monday morning as damage reports started to arrive.

Rota has about 2,500 residents and many of its buildings made of concrete.

The weather service canceled a flash-flood watch for the islands around 8:30 a.m. Monday, as the storm shifted farther west. Light to moderate rain was expected to continue for several hours, with occasional downpours, but major flooding was not expected, the agency said.