POSTED: 01:17 a.m. HST, Sep 21, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 10:17 a.m. HST, Sep 21, 2011
TOKYO » A powerful typhoon slammed into Japan Wednesday, halting trains and 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 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 17 inches of rain in some areas.
Authorities warned of a high risk of mudslides in that region. Hundreds of tsunami survivors in government shelters in the Miyagi state town of Onagawa were forced to evacuate for fear of flooding.
More than 200,000 households in central Japan were without electricity late 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 100 mph, made landfall in the early afternoon near the city of Hamamatsu, about 125 miles 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.
Fire department officials reported three people injured in Tokyo. In the trendy shopping district of Shibuya, winds knocked a tree onto a sidewalk, but no one was hurt. Pedestrians struggled to walk straight in powerful winds that made umbrellas useless.
At the Fukushima plant, engineers are still working to stabilize 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.
As the storm headed further into the north, it triggered landslides in parts of Miyagi state that already were hit by the March disasters. The local government requested the help of defense troops. Dozens of schools canceled classes.
The disaster-struck region had a chilling reminder of its earlier disasters when a magnitude-5.3 earthquake struck late Wednesday just south of Fukushima in the Ibaraki state. Officials said the temblor posed no danger to the plant, and that it did not cause any damage or injuries in the region.
Heavy rains prompted floods and caused road damage earlier in dozens of locations in Nagoya and several other cities, the Aichi prefectural government said.
Parts of Japan's central city of Nagoya, about 170 miles west of Tokyo, were flooded near swollen rivers where rescue workers helped residents evacuate in rubber boats.
Police in nearby Gifu prefecture said a 9-year-old boy and an 84-year-old man were missing after apparently falling into swollen rivers.
More than 200 domestic flights were canceled and some bullet train services were suspended.
Toyota Motor Corp., Japan's No. 1 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 Motor Co. 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.
AP writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.