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October 15, 2013

Typhoon Wipha Kills At Least 17 in Japan

by VOA News

A typhoon killed 17 people in Japan on Wednesday, most on the offshore island of Izu Oshima, but largely spared the capital and caused no new disaster as it brushed by the damaged Fukushima nuclear power station.

More than 50 people were missing after the once in a decade Typhoon Wipha roared up Japan's east coast. About 20,000 people were told to leave their homes because of the danger of flooding and hundreds of flights were cancelled.

Izu Oshima island is located south of Tokyo. Several houses were destroyed or swept away. The storm caused rivers to burst their banks and set off mudslides along a 1.2-mile stretch of mountains. Television footage showed roads clogged with wreckage and houses with gaping holes smashed into them.

"I heard a crackling sound and then the trees on the hillside all fell over,'' an Izu Oshima resident told NHK television.

The storm also disrupted the morning commute as it brushed past Tokyo, halting trains, canceling flights, and shutting down schools and offices.

Kyoichi Ito, a commuter stranded by the storm, said the storm was worse than any he remembered.

"I haven't seen it this bad. I was in a store and when I came out, I was really surprised," said Ito.

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The capital appears to have avoided major damage, though authorities are searching for two young boys missing after playing on a beach and one woman was swept away by a swollen river in western Tokyo. An additional 20 people have been hurt by falls or from being struck by flying debris.

The operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, Tokyo Electric Power Corp, cancelled all offshore work and secured machinery as the storm approached.

Tepco has been struggling to contain radioactive leaks at the Fukushima plant since a 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused extensive damage and triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986. During prior storms, heavy rains have contributed to leaks of radiation.
 
A Tepco spokesman said Typhoon Wipha had caused no new problems at the plant, which is on the coast 130 miles north of Tokyo. The rainwater was checked for radioactivity and released into the sea, the spokesman continued.
 
Wipha was downgraded to a tropical depression by the early afternoon in Japan. At its height, it had sustained winds at its center of 78 mph and gusts of up to 112 mph.
 
Typhoon Wipha was the strongest storm to hit the region since October 2004. That cyclone triggered floods and landslides that killed almost 100 people, forced thousands from their homes and caused billions of dollars in damage.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.