Typhoon Phanfone halts search for Ontake missing

Kyodo, Bloomberg, Reuters

The approach of Typhoon Phanfone forced search and rescue operations to be suspended Sunday on Mount Ontake, where 12 people are officially listed as missing from the deadly volcanic eruption on Sept. 27.

Phanfone, the 18th storm of the year, was expected to bring heavy rain to areas around Ontake, dropping about 120 mm over a 24-hour period through Monday morning, the Nagano Meteorological Observatory said.

Heavy rain combined with the thick volcanic ash left by the eruption of the 3,067-meter-high volcano is posing a high risk of mudslides.

A total of 51 deaths have so far been blamed on the nation’s worst postwar volcanic disaster, after more four bodies were retrieved on Saturday.

Authorities in the towns of Kiso and Otaki at the foot of the volcano straddling Nagano and Gifu prefectures have warned residents to stay alert for flooding and mudslides.

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, as of 7 p.m. on Sunday Phanfone was roughly 200 km (125 miles) south of Cape Ashizuri in Kochi Prefecture, moving northeast at a speed of 30 kph with an atmospheric pressure of 945 hectopascals at its center and packing winds of up to 216 kph (135 mph).

The typhoon is expected to come close to the Kii Peninsula, south of Osaka, and the Pacific coast of eastern Japan on Monday, with the possibility of making landfall, the agency said.

At a beach in Okinawa, three U.S. servicemen were washed away by high waves Sunday afternoon, with one feared dead and the two others missing. In Miyazaki Prefecture, an 88-year-old woman sustained serious injuries to her head and waist as she was blown over by strong winds.

Rainfall in the 24 hours to 6 p.m. Monday is expected to reach 400 mm in the central Tokai region, 350 mm in the Shikoku and Kinki regions, 300 mm in the Izu Islands chain and 250 mm in the Kanto-Koshin area, the agency said.

The storm is due to dump about 100 mm of rain on Tokyo over 24 hours, according the Transport Ministry website. All ferry services have been canceled, the ministry said.

“My school has already decided not to hold classes tomorrow,” said Tomoko Kakinuma, a 20-year old college student in Tokyo.

Toyota Motor Corp. plans to halt production Monday morning at 12 plants due to the storm, a company spokesman said.

ANA Holdings Inc. and Japan Airlines Co. canceled almost 80 flights and some rail operators suspended train services on a number of routes as the typhoon neared.

ANA suspended all domestic flights to Tsushima and Miyazaki in Kyushu and warned of delays, diversions and cancellations for flights to western Honshu, according to its website. JAL said by fax Sunday that it had grounded 28 flights to Kyushu. In total, more than 174 domestic flights have been effected nationwide so far, NHK state broadcaster said Sunday.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. said about 18,500 households were without power late Sunday afternoon.

Nansei Sekiyu, a refiner wholly owned by Brazilian energy company Petrobras, has suspended marine operations at its 100,000-barrel-per-day refinery in Okinawa due to the typhoon, but other operations are unaffected, a company spokesman said.

The meteorological agency issued a mudslide warning for islands south of Tokyo and also off Kagoshima Prefecture. West Japan Railway Co. and East Japan Railway Co. said two sleeper trains were canceled on Sunday while a number of other operators, including Central Japan Railway Co., said many routes faced delays, according to the companies’ websites.

Japan averaged more than 11 typhoons per year, most between July and October, over the 30-year period ended in 2010, the agency said.

In July, Typhoon Neoguri left at least three people dead after passing over Kyushu and skirting the nation’s Pacific coast. Typhoon Halong in August disrupted travel in the nation’s southwest.

Japan’s biggest oil refiners, which include Cosmo Oil Co., TonenGeneral Sekiyu KK, Idemitsu Kosan Co. and Showa Shell Sekiyu KK, didn’t report any disruptions to operations as of 3 p.m.

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