Powerful storm hits disaster-ravaged Japan

Pedestrians crossing a road struggle against the strong wind and rain in Tokyo, Japan, 28 July 2018, as Typhoon Jongdari is expected to make landfall in central Japan. Residents in flood-devastated western Japan have been warned to evacuate as soon as possible. PHOTO: EPA

TOKYO (AFP) - A powerful storm slammed into central Japan on Sunday (July 29), bringing heavy rains as it churned across western areas already devastated by floods and landslides.

Typhoon Jongdari, packing winds of up to 180 km an hour, made landfall at Ise in the Mie prefecture at around 1 am (1600 GMT Saturday), according to the nation's meteorological agency.

It weakened after making landfall and was downgraded to a tropical storm, according to the agency, but many provinces stayed on alert.

"We have been on the emergency alert the whole time since the rain disaster" in early July, said Koji Kunitomi, a crisis management official at western Japan's Okayama prefecture, referring to deadly rains earlier this month.

"Fortunately, so far, we haven't seen new flooding," he told AFP.

The storm, after unleashing torrential rain over eastern Japan, was moving further west mid-day Sunday, and authorities in western Japan urged tens of thousands of residents to evacuate before the rain intensifies.

TV footage showed high waves smashing onto rocks and seawalls on the coastline southwest of Tokyo, and trees buffeted by strong winds and heavy rain.

At least 19 people were injured across six prefectures, public broadcaster NHK said.

Rough waves shattered the window of an ocean-view restaurant at a hotel in the resort town of Atami, southwest of Tokyo, late Saturday.

"We didn't expect this could happen... Waves gushed into the restaurant as the window glass broke but we are grateful that customers followed evacuation instructions," an official at the hotel told AFP.

"Fortunately no one was seriously hurt," she said, adding five people suffered cuts from broken glass as they fled.

The storm was moving across the western Chugoku region, where record rainfall in early this month unleashed flooding and landslides, killing around 220 people.

The weather agency warned of heavy rain, landslides, strong winds and high waves, and urged people to consider early evacuation.


TV footage showed workers and residents hurriedly piling up sand bags to build temporary barriers against potential floods.

"We strongly urge residents to take action before the typhoon hits the region," Masaharu Kataoka, a city official, told AFP.

More evacuation orders and advisories were issued in western Japan, including Kure in Hiroshima prefecture, where some 6,380 residents were urged to evacuate, news reports said.

In Japan, evacuation orders are not mandatory and people often remain at home, and are later trapped by rapidly rising water or sudden landslides.

"It's going to deal a double punch," a resident in Okayama told public broadcaster NHK, referring to the recent killer downpours and the incoming typhoon.

"We are seriously worried," he said.

More than 410 domestic flights have been cancelled so far because of Typhoon Jongdari, while ferry services connecting Tokyo with nearby islands were also cancelled due to high waves, news reports said.

The flooding in the Chugoku region earlier this month (July) was Japan's worst weather-related disaster in decades, and many residents of affected areas are still living in shelters or damaged homes.

"We are fully ready 24 hours a day to evacuate residents," Tadahiko Mizushima, an official of Okayama prefecture in Chugoku, told AFP.

"We are paying special attention to the areas where restoration of river banks is under way as it would be the first heavy rain since the disaster."

Officials are particularly cautious after the deadly downpours because many people did not heed evacuation orders and became trapped. Some critics said the orders were issued too late.

"We are afraid that people may not be able to evacuate due to strong wind or floods blocking evacuation routes," Hiroshima governor Hidehiko Yuzaki told reporters.

"I would like people to evacuate in advance so that they can save their lives," Yuzaki said.

Japan is now in typhoon season, and is regularly struck by major storm systems during the summer and autumn.

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