The most powerful typhoon to hit Tokyo in decades plowed into northern Japan early on Sunday after fierce rain and wind paralyzed the capital, led to at least nine deaths, millions under evacuation warnings, rivers flooded and normally busy streets deserted.
Authorities lifted rain and flood warnings for the Kanto region around a becalmed Tokyo before dawn on Sunday but imposed them on areas further north after Typhoon Hagibis blasted through the capital.
Attention focused on Fukushima, where Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. overnight reported irregular readings from sensors monitoring water in its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which was crippled by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
At least nine people died in Chiba, Gunma, Fukushima, Tochigi and Kanagawa prefectures, public broadcaster NHK said. Fifteen were missing early Sunday, it said.
According to a local coast guard, a Panamanian cargo ship with 12 crew members aboard is believed to have sunk in Tokyo Bay. Three crew members were rescued by early Sunday.
Authorities issued evacuation advisories and orders for more than 6 million people across the country as the storm unleashed the heaviest rain and winds in years. Some 80 injuries have been reported so far, while more than 270,000 households lost power, NHK said.
The storm, which the government said could be the strongest to hit Tokyo since 1958, brought record-breaking rainfall in many areas, including the popular resort town of Hakone, which was hit with 939.5 mm (37 inches) of rain over 24 hours.
Hagibis, which means “speed” in the Philippine language Tagalog, made landfall on Japan’s main island of Honshu on Saturday evening. A magnitude 5.7 earthquake shook Tokyo shortly after.
Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and limited bullet train services resumed operations from Sunday morning following large-scale suspension on the previous day. Railways within the Tokyo Metropolitan Area operated by JR East were unlikely to be restarted until at least noon Sunday, the operator said in a statement.
Even as the typhoon moved away from the capital late on Saturday, one expert warned of further flooding as several surrounding prefectures began releasing water from dams, letting it flow downstream.
“The situation is now worse than this evening,” said Nobuyuki Tsuchiya, director of the Japan Riverfront Research Center. About 1.5 million people in Tokyo live below sea level.
The Meteorological Agency issued the highest alert level for 12 prefectures, warning of potential for once-in-decades rain totals. It lifted the alerts early Sunday.
“Damage from floods and landslides is likely taking place already,” an agency official told a news conference carried by NHK. “It is critical that people take action urgently to protect their lives and the lives of loved ones.”
Just last month, another strong storm, Typhoon Faxai, destroyed or damaged 30,000 houses in Chiba, east of Tokyo, and caused extensive power outages.
The capital’s main airports, Haneda and Narita, stopped flights from landing and connecting trains were suspended, forcing the cancellation of more than a thousand flights.
Train operators restarted some bullet train services on Sunday, while a handful of train and subway lines in Tokyo that had been down for most of Saturday were slowly restarting. Usually bustling entertainment and shopping districts such as Shibuya and Ginza were deserted.
Tokyo Disneyland was closed on Saturday, its first weather-related closure since 1984, and supermarkets ran out of bottled water, batteries and other disaster-related goods.
Many people in and around Tokyo took shelter in temporary evacuation facilities early, before the worst of the storm arrived.
Yuka Ikemura, a 24-year-old nursery school teacher, was in one such facility at a community centre in eastern Tokyo with her 3-year-old son, 8-month-old daughter and their pet rabbit.
She said she decided to move before it was too late.
“I’ve got small children to take care of and we live on the first floor of an old apartment,” Ikemura said.
“We brought with us the bare necessities. I’m scared to think about when we will have run out diapers and milk.”
Japanese Formula One Grand Prix organizers cancelled all practice and qualifying sessions scheduled for Saturday. Two matches of the Rugby World Cup due to be played on Saturday were also cancelled.
Rugby World Cup organizers said Sunday morning they have cancelled a match between Namibia and Canada in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, that was scheduled to take place later in the day, after were set to announce a decision on the Japan-Scotland match later in the morning.