Typhoon Hagibis, the strongest storm to hit Japan in decades, has begun reaping devastation along the Pacific coast of the country’s main island, with residents in the most vulnerable areas taking shelter in evacuation centres amid rising flood levels and violent winds which have left one man dead.
As of Saturday afternoon, 5.16 million evacuation advisories had been ordered up and down Honshu’s south coast, while buildings in the Kansai region, home to cities such as Osaka and Kyoto, have been left damaged by floodwaters.
The first fatality of Typhoon Hagibis was reported on Saturday morning. According to NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster, a man from Ichihara, a city in Chiba Prefecture, was killed when his vehicle was flipped over. The man was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The area had earlier been hit by a tornado, which injured at least five people, including three children. The storm has also knocked out power to about 10,000 homes across the region, with a further 24,000 without electricity in Kanto.
Wards in the Greater Tokyo Area have also begun issuing evacuation instructions — the strongest form of advisory used in Japan. More than 432,000 residents in the Edogawa Ward have been told to move to emergency shelters, with 214,000 houses in the area currently susceptible to flooding.
To the west of the region, in Kanagawa Prefecture, residents have been warned of an emergency water release at Shiroyama Dam to combat dangerously high flood levels.
Hagibis, which has been classified as “very strong” by the Japan Meteorological Agency, is advancing on a northerly path over the south of Honshu. The storm made landfall on Saturday evening before later colliding with Tokyo and the wider Kanto region, which is set to experience record-breaking rain and winds.
Fears have been raised that the storm, which is generating gusts of up to 145mph, could match the fury of the 1958 Kanogawa Typhoon, one of the deadliest on record, which killed more than 1,200 people when it hit Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture.
With the worst-hit areas of the Honshu island set to be deluged by close to three feet of rain in a 24-hour period, the Japan Meteorological Agency has issued emergency warnings of flooding, mudslides and storm surges as high as 42 feet along the coast. Tokyo is predicted to see two feet of downpour.
Flights in and out of the country have seen extensive disruption so far, with Tokyo’s two main airports subject to the most cancellations. All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines have collectively cancelled more than 1,000 flights scheduled for Saturday, both domestic and international. Multiple airports throughout the country, including those serving Tokyo, Osaka and Sendai, have also cancelled flights.
Railway operators have suspended service throughout the Tokyo region, as well as bullet train service between the capital and Osaka and between Osaka and Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu.
Tokyo Disneyland has shut its theme park, its first weather-related closure since a snowstorm in 1984. The retail giant Seven & I Holdings said it would shut 124 outlets in the Tokyo area. Toyota Motor Corp also announced on Friday it was suspending production at three factories in the country.
In Tokyo, where the streets had quietened and public transport services ground to a standstill by mid-afternoon, tannoy announcements have been made across the city recommending residents to stay indoors. Many department stores in and around the capital have decided to halt trade for the day. Evacuations have also been ordered in Kawasaki, one of the main districts forming the Greater Tokyo Area.
But as a city used to typhoons and built to withstand their effects, central Tokyo looks to be prepared for the coming storm.
George Beadle, a visiting England fan, said on Saturday morning he was struck by the initial sense of calm within the capital. “Even this morning in torrential rain the supermarkets and shops are still open with people cycling down the road,” he said from his accommodation in Shinjuku. “The only difference seems to be a shortage of water and breads in the supermarkets.”
The greater concern to life is away from the central cities and storm-proof areas. In the Chiba Prefecture, which was last month hit by Typhoon Faxai, thousands have sought cover at emergency evacuation centres, taking refuge in schools, temples, and other municipal buildings. Japan Meteorological Agency has warned that houses in the region could be blown over in the violent winds.
Some supermarkets had run out of bottled water and batteries by Friday afternoon, after officials advised residents in the area to prepare supplies for up to three days. The Chiba Prefecture, which lies to the east of Tokyo, remains particularly vulnerable to the oncoming storm, having yet to fully recover from the effects of Faxai which damaged buildings and left 900,000 people without power.
Typhoon Hagibis, which means “speed” in the Philippine language Tagalog, has already forced the cancellation of two matches at the Rugby World Cup – England’s clash with France and New Zealand’s encounter against Italy – while the Pool A decider between Japan and Scotland remains on red alert.
As of Saturday afternoon, the typhoon was considered the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane under the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale used in the United States.
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