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JPN: Two dead as strong typhoon batters Japan

Thu Oct 8 18:39:10 EST 2009
Thu Oct 8 07:39:10 UTC 2009

by Miwa Suzuki

TOKYO, Oct 8 AFP - A powerful typhoon slammed into Japan's main island on Thursday, leaving at least two people dead as violent winds damaged homes, uprooted trees and prompted fears of landslides.

Typhoon Melor, packing gusts of up to 198 kilometres an hour, was cutting a swathe across densely populated central Japan - the first tropical storm to make landfall since 2007, the weather agency said.

It brought heavy rain and strong winds that ripped roofs off houses, damaged walls and toppled trees, blocking roads and railways in central Japan.

The typhoon weakened slightly as it churned across the main island of Honshu, but "is still very dangerous," said Takeo Tanaka, a weather forecaster from the Meteorological Agency.

"Winds are violent and rain is torrential. You should also be on guard against mudslides," he said.

The agency warned that extensive areas in Japan, including Tokyo and the western industrial hub of Osaka, were at high risk of landslides as the typhoon moved along the archipelago.

Television footage showed trucks blown over and cars abandoned in the middle of flooded roads.

A 54-year-old newspaper deliveryman died in western Wakayama prefecture after his motorbike hit a fallen tree, according to local police.

In Saitama prefecture, north of Tokyo, a 69-year-old man died after being hit by an uprooted tree trunk, a local police officer said.

At least 27 people were injured by strong wind or heavy rain across the nation and thousands of people evacuated to shelters, the disaster management agency reported.

Airlines cancelled some 330 flights, mostly on domestic routes, while some railway services - including bullet trains - were temporarily suspended, including in Tokyo.

Toyota Motor said it would halt production at all 12 of its domestic plants for one day.

More than 40,000 households were without electricity in western Mie and central Gifu prefectures early Thursday, while a blackout also hit 3,500 households in Tokyo and 6,820 in neighbouring Kanagawa, power companies said.

Farmers in northern Japan rushed to harvest fruit before the typhoon arrived, while elsewhere dozens of cows strayed into a flooded residential area after their barn was damaged in the strong winds.

Typhoon Melor made landfall in central Aichi prefecture shortly after 5am on Thursday (0700 AEDT) and ripped across the main island on a path north of Tokyo, where blue skies had returned by early afternoon.

Japan has built extensive defences against floods and landslides, including storm surge barriers in coastal areas.

But typhoons can still be deadly. Western Japan was battered in October 2004 by Typhoon Tokage, which killed 95 people.

Melor, which means jasmine in Malay, is the latest in a series of powerful typhoons to batter Asia in recent weeks.

In August, Typhoon Etau brought flash floods and landslides that killed at least 25 people in Japan, even though it avoided a direct hit.

Another powerful storm, Ketsana, has caused devastation across Southeast Asia, killing hundreds of people, mostly in the Philippines and Vietnam. In Taiwan more than 600 people died after Typhoon Morakot struck in August.