By Agence France-Presse, Reuters and the Associated Press
TOKYO/NAGANO, Japan – Rescuers in Japan worked into a third day on Tuesday in an increasingly desperate search for survivors of a powerful typhoon that killed nearly 70 people and caused widespread destruction.
Hagibis slammed into Japan on Saturday night, unleashing fierce winds and “unprecedented” rain that triggered landslides and caused dozens of rivers to burst their banks.
By Tuesday morning, national broadcaster NHK put the toll at nearly 70, with more than a dozen missing. The government’s confirmed death toll was lower, but it said it was still updating its information.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said there was no plan to slow rescue operations, with around 110,000 police, coast guard, firefighters and military troops involved.
“Currently in damaged areas rescue work and searches for the missing are continuing around the clock,” Abe told parliament.
“Where rivers flooded, work is ongoing to fix spots where banks broke, and water is being pumped out where floods occurred,” he added.
The prime minister’s office said more than 3,000 people have been rescued in the wake of the disaster, which affected 36 of the country’s 47 prefectures.
Rain prompts new warnings
Government officials warned that more rain was expected throughout the day Tuesday in several parts of the country affected by the typhoon.
“Because of the heavy rain so far, water levels at rivers have risen and ground has softened in some places,” said chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga.
“We ask people not to drop their guard and to remain fully alert,” he told reporters.
Rescuers slogged through mud and debris in an increasingly grim search for the missing and as thousands of homes remained without power or water.
The storm hit a wide swath of central and eastern Japan, with 211 injured nearly three days after Typhoon Hagibis – whose name means “speed” in the Philippine language Tagalog – lashed Japan with high winds and intense rains, NHK national broadcaster said.
Some 138,000 households were without water while 24,000 lacked electricity, a far cry from the hundreds of thousands without power just after the storm but cause for concern in northern areas where the weather was starting to turn chilly.
The highest toll was in Fukushima prefecture north of Tokyo, where levees burst in at least 14 places along the Abukuma River, which meanders through a number of cities in the agricultural prefecture.
At least 18 died in Fukushima, including a mother who was caught up in flood waters with her two children, one of whose death was confirmed on Monday while the other, a little boy, remained missing.
Thousands of police, fire officials and military personnel continued to search for people who may have been cut off by floodwaters and landslides set off by the storm, with hope diminishing that the missing would be found alive.
Survivors described how waters rose rapidly to chest height in roughly an hour and mainly at night, making it hard to escape to higher ground. Many of the dead in Fukushima were elderly, NHK said.
“I couldn’t believe it, the water came up so fast,” one man in Fukushima told NHK.
Though the threat of rain is expected to diminish on Tuesday, temperatures are likely to drop in many areas later this week, in some cases to unseasonably low temperatures, NHK said.
More victims and more damage have been found in typhoon-hit areas of central and northern Japan, where rescue crews are searching for people still missing.
Businesses appeared nearly back to normal in central Tokyo but paralyzed in Nagano and other hard-hit areas still inundated. Residents elsewhere started cleaning their houses.