Tokyo on high alert as Typhoon Hagibis draws near

A travel warning sign regarding Typhoon Hagibis and possible train suspensions or cancellations at Hamamatsu railway station on Oct 10, 2019.
A travel warning sign regarding Typhoon Hagibis and possible train suspensions or cancellations at Hamamatsu railway station on Oct 10, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - One of the most violent typhoons ever on record is threatening the Tokyo metropolitan area this weekend, forcing the cancellation of domestic flights and a slew of events over safety concerns.

Typhoon Hagibis - the 19th of the season - already brought rain to Tokyo on Thursday night (Oct 10). The size of the storm prompted the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) to take the rare move of issuing a weather warning on Wednesday, three days before it was set to make landfall.

All Nippon Airlines said it will cancel all 406 domestic flights to and from Haneda Airport in Tokyo and Narita Airport in Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo, on Saturday. Japan Airlines said it will ground more than 90 per cent of its domestic flights, or about 370 services.

East Japan Railway, which services Tokyo and eastern Japan, said it may suspend services, including the capital's busiest Yamanote circle line. Central Japan Railway, meanwhile, said it may halt shinkansen bullet train services between Tokyo and Osaka, which is the world's busiest train route.

A series of events have been cancelled, such as food and dance festivals in Tokyo, a fireworks display in Saitama, to Tokyo's north, and a marathon in Sendai in north-east Japan. The Maritime Self-Defence Force has canned the first two days of a three-day fleet review off Kanagawa, to Tokyo's south.

The typhoon has also forced the closure of shops, including supermarket chain Ito Yokado.

And for the first time in the history of the tournament, two Rugby World Cup ties on Saturday - between England and France in Yokohama, and between New Zealand and Italy in Toyota city in Aichi prefecture - have been scrapped.

Japan's match against Scotland on Sunday, as well as the weekend's Formula One Grand Prix race at the Suzuka circuit, are in doubt.

Hagibis, a "super typhoon" packing winds equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane, comes as eastern Japan is still recovering from the havoc wrought by Typhoon Faxai a month ago.

 
 
 

The storm damaged 34,275 buildings in Chiba and, at one point, knocked out power to 930,000 homes. Officials have begun distributing sandbags to residents in worst-hit areas.

The JMA warned that the "violent" typhoon, which has Tokyo in its sights, could make landfall on Saturday. Even if it does not, the sheer size means it will still bring torrential rain, violent winds, high waves and storm surges, it added.

As at 9pm on Thursday night, the storm was 380km south-west of Tokyo's Chichijima island, and travelling north-west. It was packing wind speeds of 180kmh, with a maximum instantaneous wind speed of 252kmh.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose government faced backlash for its slow response to Typhoon Faxai, has vowed to quicken disaster response.

Past official projections indicate that up to 30 per cent of Tokyo's central 23 wards may be flooded in a "super typhoon". Experts say at least five million people may be affected by evacuation advisories.