TOKYO – Thousands of rescue workers and soldiers continued search and rescue operations in Japan on Monday after the passage of powerful typhoon Hagibis that left a trail of death and destruction in large parts of the country.
At least 49 people have been killed by the storm in the central, eastern and northeastern parts of Japan over the weekend, with nearly half of the casualties reported from the Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures, state broadcaster NHK reported.
More than a dozen people remain missing while over 200 have been injured by the storm, according to the data collected from rescue teams and local authorities.
The death toll could rise further in the coming days or even weeks as rescue works and clearing of debris continue, while the extent of material damage was also being estimated.
Speaking at an emergency meeting to discuss the response to the storm, Defense Minister Taro Kono said the first 72 hours after a disaster were crucial to saving lives, according to NHK.
Over 110,000 members of the police, fire fighting and self-defense forces are taking part in the operations, according to government figures.
Rescue efforts could be hampered as rain is forecast in the affected areas on Monday evening and authorities have asked people to exercise caution amid increased risk of flooding and landslides following record rainfall due to the passage of the typhoon.
In order to coordinate rescue efforts, authorities were analyzing images and footage taken from air by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism – in which excavators can be seen working amid rubbles and helicopters carrying out rescue operations – and material published on the internet.
Hagibis, the 19th typhoon of the season in the Pacific – led to record rains in some parts of Japan over the weekend which continued for hours. Some areas received a staggering 40 percent of their annual rainfall on the same day.
The rains also caused numerous dams located along at least 21 rivers in the country to collapse, according to the land ministry.
In Nagano prefecture – one of the worst affected by the storm – torrential rains caused the Chikuma River to overflow and flood nearby localities, leaving its residents stranded until they were rescued by helicopter and boats.
The powerful typhoon swept several bags of radioactive waste – collected during decontamination efforts after Fukushima nuclear accident – into a nearby river, local daily The Asahi Shimbun reported on Monday.
The bags – filled with debris such as soil, leaves, plants and other materials contaminated with radioactive substances – were swept away into a river around 100 meters away when the facility in the Tamura district in Fukushima was flooded by heavy rains brought by Hagibis.
Local authorities said the environment Ministry would be consulted to determine possible effects of the incident on the environment.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered relevant authorities to provide all possible help to the more than 30,000 people who remain displaced and said in an emergency cabinet meeting that around 200 pump trucks had been deployed to drain out the flooded areas.
Apart from residential areas, the floods also affected roads and railway bridges, while crops and harvests have also been seriously damaged by Hagibis, one of the worst storms to hit the country in decades.