by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Sept 21, 2011
A powerful typhoon smashed into Japan on Wednesday and headed towards the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, where workers raced to secure buildings to stop radioactive material spreading.
Typhoon Roke, packing winds of up to 216 kilometres (130 miles) per hour, made landfall near Hamamatsu, central Japan, at about 2:00pm (0500 GMT) and was moving northeast across the major island of Honshu.
The storm has already killed at least four people and more than a million were initially warned to leave their homes over fears that torrential rains could cause widespread flooding.
Hundreds of flights were cancelled, ferry and rail services were suspended and roads closed as the country prepared for the impact of the storm.
Roke comes just six months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami laid waste to a vast area of Japan's Pacific coast, sparking nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima.
It also comes less than a month after a vicious typhoon barrelled through Japan, killing 100 people in the deadliest storm the country has seen for more than three decades.
Four people have so far been found dead in central and western Japan, while two people are missing in the central prefecture of Gifu, including a boy who disappeared on his way home from primary school.
A tornado warning was temporarily raised across the Tokyo area, but expired a few hours after it was issued.
Many of the initial evacuation advisories were dropped by Wednesday lunchtime, but remained in force for around 330,000 people nationwide.
Auto giant Toyota said it was temporarily shutting 11 of its 15 Japanese plants, which lie in the path of the storm.
"The second (afternoon) shift is stopped. (It is) not resuming today. No decision has been made for tomorrow," company spokesman Dion Corbert told AFP.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries had temporarily closed five of its aviation and engine plants in central Japan due to the storm, a company spokesman said.
Roke is expected to heap more misery on a country that has been lashed by natural disasters this year.
Around 20,000 people are thought to have died along the northeast coast when the March tsunami rolled in, wreaking billions of dollars of damage.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was sent into meltdown after its cooling systems were swamped by the waves, sending radiation into the air, sea and food chain in the world's worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl.
Earlier this month, Typhoon Talas hit Japan, killing around 100 people in the deadliest storm to hit the country for over 30 years.
Heavy downpours caused flash flooding and massive landslides that swept away buildings and people.
By the time it hit the coastline on Wednesday, Roke was moving at around 45 kilometres per hour. Winds near its centre were estimated at up to 162 kilometres per hour, with gusts much stronger.
"The rain and wind is raging out there and people on the street were staggering," Yoshinori Ito, a spokesman with Hamamatsu City, said by phone.
The storm was expected to travel northeast, in the direction of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where workers are still battling to control persistent radiation leaks.
"We have taken every possible measure against the typhoon" at Fukushima Daiichi, said Naoki Tsunoda, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co, the operator of the stricken plant.
"We have tied down cables and hoses while fixing equipment so that radioactive materials will not spread (in violent winds)," he said, adding operations on the ground and at sea had been suspended.
He said workers had also fixed tarpaulin over spots in buildings where rain could enter.
The typhoon has already brought torrential rain and some flooding, with TV footage showing residents walking through streets knee-deep in water.
A number of expressways have been closed, and ferry services that ply routes between the many islands that make up Japan had been cancelled.
Around 450 flights had been cancelled, grounding more than 45,000 passengers, Jiji Press reported.
East Japan Railway was suspending a number of services, including some bullet trains, but did not know how many passengers would be affected, a spokesman said.
Central Japan Railway said it had halted all bullet train services connecting Tokyo and Osaka, with no immediate prospect of their restarting.
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Japan warns one million to evacuate as typhoon nears
Tokyo (AFP) Sept 20, 2011
More than a million people in Japan were warned to leave their homes on Tuesday as an approaching typhoon brought heavy rain and floods which left three dead or missing. Typhoon Roke, packing winds of up to 144 kilometres (89 miles) an hour near its centre, could land in central Japan Wednesday and move northeast, possibly towards the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, the Japanese weather ag ... read more
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