A powerful typhoon has slammed into Japan, leaving 13 people dead or missing in south-central regions before grazing a crippled nuclear plant and heaping rain on the tsunami-ravaged northeast.
Officials at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, where engineers are still struggling with small radiation leaks due to tsunami damage, expressed relief on Wednesday that Typhoon Roke’s driving winds and rain caused no immediate problems there other than a broken security camera.
“The worst seems to be over,” said Takeo Iwamoto, spokesman for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co, after the storm passed just west of the plant on its way north.
But the typhoon brought new misery to the northeastern region already slammed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, dumping up to 42 centimetres of rain in some areas.
Authorities warned of a high risk of mudslides in that region.
Hundreds of tsunami survivors in government shelters in Onagawa were forced to evacuate for fear of flooding.
More than 200,000 households in central Japan were without electricity late on Wednesday.
Police and local media reported 13 people dead or missing in southern and central regions, many of them believed swept away by rivers swollen with rains.
The storm, packing sustained winds of up to 162km/h, made landfall in the early afternoon near the city of Hamamatsu, about 200km west of Tokyo. The fast-moving storm went past the capital in the evening and then headed up into the northeast, where it was losing strength.
In Tokyo, where many rush hour commuter trains were suspended, thousands of commuters trying to rush home were stuck at stations across the sprawling city.
“The hotels in the vicinity are all booked up, so I’m waiting for the bullet train to restart,” Hiromu Harada, a 60-year-old businessman, said dejectedly at Tokyo Station.
At the Fukushima plant, engineers are still working to stabilise the reactors six months after three of them melted down when the tsunami disabled the plant’s power and back-up generators.
Iwamoto said the storm passed without damaging the reactors’ cooling systems, which are crucial to keeping them under control. However, a closed-circuit camera that shows exteriors of the reactor buildings abruptly stopped, he said.
Workers were trying to prevent pools of contaminated water from flooding and leaking outside the complex, said Junichi Matsumoto, another power company spokesman.
“The contaminated water levels have been rising, and we are watching the situation very closely to make sure it stays there,” Matsumoto told reporters.
More than 200 domestic flights were cancelled and some bullet train services were suspended.
Toyota, Japan’s No1 automaker, shut down its plants as a precaution.
Machinery maker Mitsubishi Heavy Industries told workers at its five plants to stay home, company spokesman Hideo Ikuno said.
Nissan spokesman Chris Keeffe said workers at its Yokohama headquarters and nearby technical facilities were being told to go home early for safety reasons, and that two plants were not operating.
A typhoon that slammed Japan earlier this month left about 90 people dead or missing.