TOKYO – A powerful typhoon blasted across Japan (search) on Wednesday, reportedly killing at least 31 people and prompting thousands to flee their homes as it caused deadly mudslides and flash floods before veering east into the Pacific Ocean. Nearly 40 people were feared missing.
Typhoon Tokage (search) made landfall on Japan's main islands early Wednesday and was downgraded to a tropical storm by the evening, but its winds and torrential rains were the deadliest in more than a decade.
Early Thursday, the storm had swiped Japan's eastern coastline then headed east to open seas, its fury spent.
Rescue workers and Japanese troops mounted a search for at least 39 people still missing, digging through mud and debris and combing flooded rivers, Japanese media reported. Public broadcaster NHK said the combined deaths and missing were the highest in 16 years.
"The death toll is likely to keep rising, as we take stock of the damage," National Police Agency spokesman Kojun Chibana said.
NHK put the death toll at 31 early Thursday; the National Police Agency (search) recorded 24 fatalities. At least 238 people had been injured, police spokesman Chibana said.
Television footage showed powerful gusts uprooting huge trees, flash floods submerging cars to their windows and entire hillsides crumbling away in landslides across southern and central Japan. Delivery trucks, tipped over by winds, lay on their sides.
On Thursday, concrete frames, wood splinters and electrical appliances were all that was left of homes in Muroto in southwestern Kochi prefecture (state), where massive waves broke through concrete tidebreaks and smashed into beachside properties. In large areas of western and southern Japan, neighborhoods and farmlands were still under water.
The storm caused more than 927 flight cancellations, left 265,000 households without power and forced at least 9,900 people to evacuate on Wednesday, NHK reported. Some 120 more flights were reportedly canceled on Thursday.
Parts of southern Japan, including Miyazaki prefecture, were virtually shut down as public schools closed and local bus, train and air transport came to a halt, prefectural spokesman Takashi Arimura said.
Tokage, the Japanese word for lizard, was the record eighth typhoon to hit Japan this year.
Police said 35 people were missing, including two in landslides and two who were feared to have been swept away in high waves in Chiba prefecture, next to Tokyo. NHK said 39 were still unaccounted for.
In western Kyoto prefecture, two women — a 72-year-old and a 79-year-old — were discovered dead early Thursday inside their homes, which had been destroyed by a landslide, Chibana said. A 70-year-old man living in the same village had drowned, he said.
Also in Kyoto, rescuers on motor boats and helicopters plucked all 36 passengers and a driver from a tourist bus after rising floodwaters had nearly submerged the vehicle early Thursday, police said.
In western Hyogo prefecture, a man and his two children who had been buried in their home by a mudslide were rescued early Thursday, but his wife later died at a hospital, NHK said.
On the southern main island of Shikoku, in Kochi prefecture, waves had hit a coastal home, killing a family of three, while a 68-year-old fisherman was swept away and drowned after trying to dock his boat, prefectural spokesman Masatoshi Iwamoto said.
Nationwide, more than 7,000 homes were flooded and hundreds of others ripped apart or buried, Chibana said.
The Meteorological Agency had warned of waves of up to 30 feet hitting southern coastlines. It also recorded as much as 15.75 inches of rain in parts of southwestern Japan Wednesday.
Several Japanese oil refiners were forced to halt sea deliveries of oil products from their refineries in western Japan due to heavy rain and strong winds. The suspension was unlikely to affect domestic supply because the oil refiners have sufficient stocks of refined products to cover emergencies such as typhoons and earthquakes.
Earlier this month, Typhoon Ma-on killed six people in Japan after swiping the country's Pacific coast. A week before that, Typhoon Meari killed 22.
This year's typhoons have far outstripped the previous post-World War II record of six, set in 1990.