Typhoon Vongfong sprints toward Tohoku; 61 hurt, one missing

Kyodo, JIJI, AFP-JIJI, Staff Report

Typhoon Vongfong pummeled Kyushu, Shikoku and western Honshu on Monday, leaving at least 61 people injured and one missing before racing northeast toward Tokyo.

The season’s 19th typhoon is likely to blow through the Chubu and Kanto regions early Tuesday before heading out to sea from Tohoku later in the morning, where it is expected to fizzle into a tropical depression.

As Vongfong made its way up the archipelago Monday afternoon, the last day of a three-day weekend capped by the Sports Day national holiday, the city of Shizuoka issued an evacuation advisory to 212,000 households comprising 506,000 people.

West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) meanwhile suspended all non-shinkansen operations in the Keihanshin area around the cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. About 1,200 train runs on 24 lines in six prefectures in the Kansai region were either delayed or suspended, affecting an estimated 480,000 people.

On Sunday, JR West for the first time in its history announced the suspension of all non-Shinkansen lines in anticipation of the weakened typhoon’s arrival. It also temporarily suspended Sanyo shinkansen runs.

Train runs on all Shikoku Railway Co. (JR Shikoku) lines were also suspended, while airlines canceled some 660 flights, affecting tens of thousands of customers.

As of 9:50 p.m. Monday, the atmospheric pressure of the former supertyphoon had weakened considerably to 985 hectopascals. It was racing east-northeast at a speed of 55 kph, with maximum sustained winds of 108 kph and gusts up to 144 kph.

Evacuation advisories were also issued to some areas of the village of Otaki and the town of Kiso in Nagano Prefecture, where Mount Ontake fatally erupted two weeks ago. Authorities are warning that the typhoon may cause mudslides caked with volcanic ash, causing clusters of homes in these areas to be isolated.

Seven people are still missing from the sudden eruption, which did not produce lava but killed least 56 people.

At 4 p.m., Vongfong was blowing through Kochi Prefecture at a speed of 45 kph, with an atmospheric pressure of 975 hectopascals at its center and maximum gusts of 108 kph. It was forecast to reach the Kanto region including Tokyo early Tuesday.

The typhoon hit Sukumo, Kochi Prefecture, at around 2:30 p.m. after making landfall in Makurazaki, Kagoshima Prefecture, at around 8:30 a.m.

Over 400 flights were canceled the same day, many in and out of Kyushu and Shikoku, while the Sanyo Shinkansen Line was forced to suspend service in Hiroshima Prefecture in the morning by strong winds.

Some services on the Kyushu Railway (JR Kyushu) network were also suspended in the morning, while JR West was set to cancel all service in Osaka and surrounding areas as the typhoon approached in the afternoon.

Further North, evacuation orders were issued in advance in some parts of Chiba Prefecture, and on the southern tip of Kyushu in Miyazaki Prefecture, according to NHK.

Overall, evacuation advisories were issued in seven prefectures spanning the Kyushu, Shikoku, Chugoku, Okinawa and Kanto regions, according to an NHK tally as of 2 p.m.

As of 3:50 p.m., much of western Japan was warned by the Meteorological Agency to be aware of the potential for “major” disasters that could be caused by heavy rain and winds, as the agency stuck to its new policy of being more proactive in issuing warnings.

At around 5 p.m., Ehime, Tokushima and Hyogo prefectures were warned about potential mudslides.

The agency said that eastern and northern Japan should expect more than 80 mm of rain fall per hour along the Pacific coast, where tornados, storm surges and violent waves would all pose dangers.

Senior agency official Hiroshi Sasaki called for precautions to be taken because “winds and waves can turn violent quickly and the rain may become heavy in wide areas as the typhoon approaches them.”

According to Kyodo News, at least 61 light and heavy injuries have been blamed on the typhoon, including four people who were toppled by strong winds.

A 90-year-old man in Okawa, Fukuoka Prefecture, broke his right thigh bone after falling outside while checking the wind, while in Goto, Nagasaki Prefecture, a 51-year-old Kobe man visiting relatives broke his ribs in a fall.

Television footage showed the roof and walls of a house ripped away by gusts in Makurazaki, while huge waves were smashing into breakwaters.

“We are calling on our residents to remain on alert because we are still within the storm zone,” said Naoki Jomori, an official at the Makurazaki disaster office.

In Shizuoka, three Chinese were swept away by high waves on Sunday afternoon while fishing on the coast, a local police spokesman said.

“Two of them were rescued but the remaining one, aged 26, is still missing,” the spokesman said.

The Meteorological Agency warned that landslides, floods, high waves and heavy rains could threaten much of the archipelago, which saw a relatively wet summer trigger several landslides, most notably in Hiroshima, where more than 70 people died.

The typhoon also paralyzed traffic, stranding thousands of people traveling at the end of a three-day holiday to honor health and sports day.

The typhoon came just a week after another typhoon whipped through the country, leaving 11 people dead or missing.