Typhoon Lionrock leaves 11 dead, three missing in flooded North Japan

Kyodo, Staff Report

Eleven people were dead and three were missing Wednesday after Typhoon Lionrock blitzed northern Japan, causing blackouts, property damage and fatal widespread flooding that caught some municipalities by surprise.

The typhoon, the 10th of the season and the first to hit Tohoku’s Pacific coastline, made landfall Tuesday in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture. By the time it reached Aomori at 8 p.m., it was racing northward at 60 kph with a barometric pressure of 972 hectopascals, maximum sustained winds of 108 kph and 162-kph gusts.

Flooding appeared to be the main cause of the fatalities.

According to the police, nine bodies were found near a one-story nursing home facility in the town of Iwaizumi, Iwate Prefecture, with the body of a man recovered near the rain-swollen Omoto River, which overflowed its banks.

Despite the torrential rain, it has been learned that the Iwaizumi Municipal Government failed to issue a flood warning for the Omoto River, which rose from 3.2 meters at 6 p.m. to overflow its 4.9-meter banks by 7 p.m., and eventually reached 6.6 meters.

Broadcaster NHK showed a rescue helicopter landing on the nursing facility’s roof as tree trunks and mud lay piled up around the building. The bodies found close to the nursing home are believed to be its residents, who were all over 70 years old.

Authorities, however, had better luck at another care facility adjacent to the stricken one after airlifting some 70 to 80 people to safety, a local social welfare council said.

Three more residents in Iwaizumi were rescued by the Self-Defense Forces after getting stranded in the central part of town, though a body was found lying among storm debris in the nearby city of Kuji, local police said.

Lionrock’s strong winds and heavy rains prompted evacuation advisories for around 410,000 people due to fears of landslides and high waves.

In Hokkaido, three people remain missing after falling into rivers in the towns of Taiki, Shimizu and Shintoku.

One, office worker Yohei Suzuki, 28, disappeared after his car fell into a river in Taiki. Two passengers managed to escape and reach safety, local police said.

In Minamifurano, Hokkaido, around 350 people were left stranded in downtown after the area was inundated following the collapse of a levee on the Sorachi River. A levee on the Satsunai River in Obihiro also collapsed.

As of Tuesday, a total of 10 people in the four prefectures of Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi and Akita were reported injured.

According to the Meteorological Agency, rainfall in Iwate and Hokkaido reached record levels because of the storm, with Iwaizumi logging 203.5 mm — the usual amount for the month of August — in just one day.

More than 100 domestic flights and over 50 shinkansen services were canceled Tuesday before the typhoon blew its way into the Sea of Japan the same evening.

The typhoon forced many manufacturers, including Toyota Motor Corp., to suspend operations at factories in the region, which is still recovering from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster, to protect their workers.