• Kyodo

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Work began Wednesday to clear away rubble in the town of Saroma, northeastern Hokkaido, where a tornado the previous day destroyed prefabricated structures at a tunnel construction site and other buildings, killing nine people and injuring 26.

The Meteorological Agency said the tornado that struck shortly past 1 p.m. Tuesday may be the most devastating on record in Japan.

The bodies of the dead were laid out at a civic center in the town and from the early hours of Wednesday relatives came to the center to mourn.

At the tunnel site, some 50 workers turned up shortly after 8 a.m. from the place they had taken shelter in after the twister and began searching for the victims’ belongings in the rubble.

A government task force led by Kensei Mizote, a state minister for disaster management, arrived at the site around 9 a.m., as did meteorological experts.

Hokkaido Gov. Harumi Takahashi told members of a municipal task force: “I realized the terrible power of nature. We will do everything possible to deal with the disaster.”

The prefecture will put priority on offering public housing to residents whose homes were destroyed, Takahashi said in a news conference.

The twister cut a 1-km-long, 100-meter-wide swath through Soroma’s Wakasa district, according to the town.

The experts from the Meteorological Agency and Hokkaido University said they plan to study how the tornado managed to wreak so much destruction, including flattening buildings and downing power poles, and will interview nearby residents and witnesses.

At the construction site, a consortium led by contractor Kajima Corp. was building a 4.1-km tunnel that would be the second-longest in Hokkaido.

The tornado blew away a two-story prefabricated field office for the project and dumped the upper section and some of its occupants onto a wooden factory 70 meters away, firefighters said.

Eight of the nine dead were on the upper floor of the office, and four of the dead were found in the rubble of the factory and four others nearby. The ninth fatality was found in a separate place.

Another two-story structure used both as an office and quarters for workers also had its upper floor ripped off at the site.

Hokkaido Electric Power Co. said electricity was restored early Wednesday to most of some 630 houses in and around the Wakasa district that had suffered a blackout Tuesday after the tornado downed power lines.

Workers and residents whose houses were damaged had spent the night in a gymnasium serving as a shelter.

On Tuesday, the weather agency had warned about strong winds and turbulent waters across a wide area of Japan, including northern Japan, due to a strong low-pressure system traveling from the Sea of Japan toward the Sea of Okhotsk.

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