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Typhoon Hagibis death toll rises as rescuers race against the clock to find survivors

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI, Reuters

Rescuers on Tuesday raced against the clock to save more than a dozen people still missing after a catastrophic typhoon killed at least 73 people in 12 prefectures and paralyzed numerous areas over the weekend.

A total of 14 were still unaccounted for as of Tuesday evening, after Typhoon Hagibis brought record-breaking rainfall to huge swaths of the country, according to a tally by Kyodo News, based on information provided by authorities in each region.

Japan is still scrambling to get a complete picture of the damage. The infrastructure ministry said embankment collapses affecting 47 rivers in 66 locations had been confirmed as of Tuesday morning, but officials said the full scale of damage remains unclear as they cannot reach some areas due to very high water levels.

The most powerful typhoon to hit Japan in decades also caused mudslides as well as electricity and water outages in various parts of the country.

A total of 146 mudslides were reported in 19 of the country’s 47 prefectures, while nearly 10,000 homes had been hit by muddy floodwater, according to government officials.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday there is no plan to slow rescue operations, with around 110,000 police, coast guard, firefighters and Self-Defense Forces personnel involved.

“Currently in damaged areas rescue work and searches for the missing are continuing around the clock,” Abe told the Diet.

“Where rivers flooded, work is ongoing to fix spots where banks broke, and water is being pumped out where floods occurred,” he added.

Abe said that if necessary the government will use reserve funds, and will draft a supplementary budget for reconstruction work.

“It is urgent to provide adequate support for the victims,” Abe said. “There are concerns that the impact on life and economic activities will be prolonged.”

As of Tuesday, 20,000 homes were still suffering blackouts, although the number of residences without power has been significantly reduced from a peak of some 520,000, industry minister Isshu Sugawara told reporters.

Homes without power included many in Chiba Prefecture, an area that also suffered a prolonged power outage after Typhoon Faxai made landfall there in early September.

The health ministry said the number of homes without water stood at 128,000 in 12 prefectures.

Defense Minister Taro Kono said he is summoning some 200 reserve members of the SDF and will raise the number to 1,000 if needed to facilitate rescue efforts and distribute water and other supplies to the affected.

The highest death toll was in Fukushima Prefecture, where levees burst in at least 14 places along the Abukuma River, which meanders through a number of cities in the largely agricultural prefecture.

At least 25 people died in the prefecture, including a mother and child who were caught in flood waters. Another child of the woman remains missing.

Survivors described how water rose rapidly to chest height in about an hour and mainly at night, making it hard to escape to higher ground. Many of the dead in Fukushima Prefecture were elderly, public broadcaster NHK said.

Residents in Koriyama, one of the prefecture’s larger cities, said they were taken by surprise by the flooding.

Police searched house-to-house to make sure nobody had been left behind or was in need of help.

“I checked the flood hazard map but it didn’t have my area as being at risk,” said Yoshinagi Higuchi, 68, who lives about 100 meters from one levee and waited out the flood on the second floor of his house as the ground floor filled with water.

In the town of Marumori, Miyagi Prefecture, water was being removed from around the flooded town office after it became accessible only by boat on Saturday.

“My frightened daughter can’t stop shaking. We want to go home quickly,” said Rie Nishioka, 39, who was among the evacuees in the town.

While most train networks in Japan were back to normal by Tuesday, some sections are running only limited services or remain closed.

East Japan Railway Co. said it could take at least one or two weeks to normalize shinkansen services between Tokyo and Kanazawa after rows of its bullet trains were engulfed by floodwater at a rail yard in Nagano Prefecture.

Sanriku Railway Co., which only in March finally fully resumed all operations that were disrupted by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami which devastated parts of the Tohoku region, suspended services between Kuji and Kamaishi.

On Tuesday, more than 280 public elementary, junior high and high schools closed for the day in 12 prefectures, including Fukushima and Nagano, where the Chikuma River burst its banks, stranding hundreds of people.

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