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article imageJapan rescuers still scrambling as typhoon toll nears 70

By Kyoko HASEGAWA (AFP)     Oct 14, 2019 in Environment

Rescuers in Japan were working around the clock Tuesday in an increasingly desperate search for survivors of a powerful weekend 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 afternoon, local media put the toll at nearly 70, with around a dozen people missing. The government's tally was lower, but it said it was still updating 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.

Typhoon Hagibis brought heavy rains that triggered landslides and destructive flooding
Typhoon Hagibis brought heavy rains that triggered landslides and destructive flooding
Kazuhiro NOGI, AFP

"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.

The defence ministry has called up several hundred reserve troops in addition to active duty soldiers for the first time since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

- 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.

Hagibis was one of the strongest typhoons to hit the area in recent decades
Hagibis was one of the strongest typhoons to hit the area in recent decades
-, JIJI PRESS/AFP

"We ask people not to drop their guard and to remain fully alert," chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga. told reporters.

Hagibis crashed into land packing gusts up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, but it was the storm's heavy rain that caused the most damage.

At least 176 rivers burst their banks, including in central Nagano, where a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods and submerging bullet trains in a depot up to their windows.

Pumping operations were being carried out where floodwaters submerged homes and vehicles after Typho...
Pumping operations were being carried out where floodwaters submerged homes and vehicles after Typhoon Hagibis
Jiji Press, JIJI PRESS/AFP

Deaths were reported across many prefectures and included a man whose apartment was flooded, a municipal worker whose car was caught in rising waters and at least seven crew aboard a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo bay on Saturday night.

By Tuesday morning, some 34,000 households were still without power, and 133,000 homes had no water.

Tens of thousands of people spent Monday night in government shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.

"My frightened daughter can't stop shaking. We want to go home quickly," Rie Nishioka, 39, told Kyodo News agency in Miyagi prefecture.

- Government pledges aid -

The government pledged financial support to affected regions without specifying how much aid it would set aside.

Tens of thousands of people have been forced to sleep in shelters after Typhoon Hagibis pounded Japa...
Tens of thousands of people have been forced to sleep in shelters after Typhoon Hagibis pounded Japan
Kazuhiro NOGI, AFP

"Support for the victims of the disaster is an urgent task," Abe said.

"There are concerns that the impact on daily life and economic activities may be long-lasting."

Another area affected by the storm was Fukushima, where several bags containing soil and plants collected during nuclear decontamination efforts were washed away.

"Ten bags out of 2,667 were swept into a river during the typhoon, but six of them were recovered yesterday," environment ministry official Keisuke Takagi told AFP, adding that the remaining four bags had been found and would be collected soon.

Dozens of rivers burst their banks after Typhoon Hagibis dropped record rains across parts of Japan
Dozens of rivers burst their banks after Typhoon Hagibis dropped record rains across parts of Japan
JIJI PRESS, JIJI PRESS/AFP/File

"Residents must be worried about the environment, but there are no reports that the bags were broken, so there will be nothing to worry about once they have been recovered safely," he said.

Hagibis caused transport chaos over a holiday weekend in Japan, grounding flights and halting train services.

By Tuesday, things were largely back to normal, though some flights were cancelled and train services partially disrupted where tracks or train stock were damaged by the storm.

The typhoon also caused disruption to sporting events, delaying Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and forcing Rugby World Cup organisers to cancel three matches.

A crunch fixture pitting the hosts against Scotland went ahead on Sunday night, with Japan winning its first-ever quarter final spot.

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