Indonesia seeds clouds to keep them away from flooded capital

By Bernadette Christina and Jessica Damiana

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s air force seeded clouds with salt on Friday to try to stop rainfall reaching the slowing sinking capital after deadly flash floods and landslides triggered by some of the heaviest rain ever recorded.

The death toll in Jakarta and surrounding areas rose to 43 as of Friday, the disaster mitigation agency said, while tens of thousands of people have been displaced.

Indonesia’s technology agency BPPT and the air force carried out three rounds of cloud seeding on Friday, with more expected when needed, a BPPT official said.

The seeding, shooting salt flares in an attempt to trigger rainfall, is aimed at breaking up clouds before they reach Jakarta.

“We will do cloud seeding every day as needed,” BPPT chief Hammam Riza told reporters.

Cloud seeding is often used in Indonesia to put out forest fires during the dry season.

The floods followed torrential rains on Dec. 31 and into the early hours of New Year’s Day that inundated swathes of Jakarta and nearby towns, home to about 30 million people.

The deluge at the start of 2020 was “one of the most extreme rainfall” events since records began in 1866, the Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said on Friday.

The agency said climate change had increased the risk of extreme weather and warned that heavy rainfall could last until mid-February, with Jan 11-15 an expected peak.

Television footage showed flood waters inundating parts of Southeast Asia’s largest city and mud-covered cars, some piled on top of each other.

President Joko Widodo blamed delays in flood control infrastructure projects for the disaster, including the construction of a canal that has been delayed since 2017 due to land acquisition problems.

Widodo last year announced he would move Indonesia’s capital to East Kalimantan province on Borneo island to reduce the burden on overpopulated Jakarta.

More than 50 people died in one of the capital’s deadliest floods in 2007 and five years ago much of the centre of the city was inundated after canals overflowed.

Jakarta is sinking by several cm a year in northern parts, an official said in October, due to extraction of groundwater over the years causing layers of rock and sediment to slowly pancake on top of each other.

(Additional reporting by Jakarta bureau; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; editing by Nick Macfie)

Floods in Indonesia’s capital kill nine, force thousands to evacuate

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Flash floods inundated swathes of Indonesia’s capital and nearby towns on the first day of the New Year after torrential rainfall overnight, killing at least nine people and forcing thousands of people to evacuate, authorities said on Wednesday.

“As of 4 pm today, there are 19,079 displaced residents who have been evacuated at temporary shelters throughout Jakarta,” city governor Anies Baswedan told a news conference.

“The rain in Jakarta has stopped, now we are waiting for the water to recede”.

Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said at least 9 people had died in flash floods and landslides triggered by the rain in Jakarta and nearby towns.

Most of the deaths were due to hypothermia, though one was a teenager who was electrocuted by a power line, disaster mitigation agency spokesman Agus Wibobo said.

Television footage showed cars almost completely submerged and people wading through meters murky brown water in some neighborhoods of the capital.

Water levels in East and South Jakarta as well as in the satellite cities of Tangerang and Bekasi in West Java province started to quickly rise from 3 a.m. local time (2000 GMT), according to the disaster mitigation agency.

Indonesia’s state electricity utility said it had switched off the electricity in hundreds of districts in Jakarta, which is home to 30 million people.

The floods also caused the temporary closure of the runway at Jakarta’s domestic Halim airport, with flights redirected to the capital’ bigger Soekarno airport.

City authorities have in the last few years sought to improve low-lying Jakarta’s vulnerability to flooding during the rainy season.

More than 50 people died in one of the capital’s deadliest floods in 2007 and five years ago much of the center of the city was inundated after canals overflowed.

Jakarta resident Daniel, whose neighborhood had been waterlogged, told reporters of his disappointment with the city government’s efforts to mitigate the floods, which happen yearly during the rainy season.

“I only have one hope, which is to ask the current governor to fix this because it impact all the people,” he pleaded.

“Take the right action please, look at what is happening now, bring the situation back to normal.”

(Reporting by Jakarta bureau; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

U.S. liable for home damages from flooding during 2017 hurricane: court

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Hundreds of Houston homeowners near U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-managed reservoirs may receive compensation for flooding of their properties during 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), which managed two dams and the reservoirs, had planned to flood private properties in the event of inundating rainfall, Senior Judge Charles Lettow of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims said in his decision.

Harvey dumped nearly 3 feet (90 cm) of water on the fourth most-populous U.S. city and flooded a third of Harris County, where the city and many of its suburbs are located along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“The government had made a calculated decision to allow for flooding these lands years before Harvey, when it designed, modified, and maintained the dams in such a way that would flood private properties during severe storms,” Lettow wrote.

The ruling, which involved 13 owners chosen as test cases, opens the door to billions of dollars in potential claims from other property owners, attorneys have said.

The homes were built in areas that had been free of major flooding around federal land in the Addicks and Barker reservoirs in West Houston. The ACE called the enormous rainfall during Harvey an unforeseeable event.

Homeowners alleged the government improperly used their land to store water, calling it an unlawful taking of their properties by the government. Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the federal government cannot take private property without compensating the owner.

A representative for the Army Corps of Engineers was not immediately available to answer questions about the decision.

Lettow is expected to make a decision next year on the amount of compensation the 13 homeowners can receive.

“The government intentionally flooded these private homes and businesses to save downtown Houston,” said attorney Daniel Charest of Burns Charest, co-lead class counsel for the property owners.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Disaster hacks: South American cities harness tech and nature to tackle flooding

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Hit with ever-more-frequent torrential rain that triggers worsening flooding and mudslides most years, Rio de Janeiro is looking to an unusual gathering for answers: a hackathon.

Starting Saturday, teams of university students, tech start-up leaders, software developers and computer engineers will try to come up with innovative ways to help the seaside Brazilian city limit its losses as climate change brings wilder weather.

Tech experts at the city hall-led event hope to, for instance, come up with new ways to leverage data from GPS systems already used in the city’s buses to allow emergency services to better understand and monitor floods in real time.

“We know we have problems of floods and heavy rains, and we see an opportunity to use GPS to know where the flooding and landslide incidents are,” said Simone Silva, a mobility advisor at city hall and one of the organizers.

Right now, “at the very local level, we don’t know exactly what happens,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

RISING URBANIZATION

Around Latin America, tens of millions of people are at risk from worsening flooding linked to climate change, many of them living in urban slums often built along rivers or on mountain slopes prone to landslides.

About 80% of Latin America’s people live in the region’s urban areas, according to the United Nations.

But across the region, cities are working to cut the risks, harnessing technology, better data and insights from affected communities to come up with new ways to keep people safe.

Flooding is clearly seen as one of the most severe threats. Of 530 cities worldwide that reported their climate hazards in 2018 to CDP, a London-based international environmental non-profit, 71% said floods were their top worry.

Extreme heat came next, at 61%, followed by drought at 36%, according to the study, published last month.

But over half of cities have not carried out risk assessments to map which areas, residents and businesses are under threat from extreme weather, the study found.

“We have seen that cities that take vulnerability assessments, they take six times as many actions to adapt as cities that haven’t done them,” said Kyra Appleby, who heads the CDP’s cities, states and regions team.

Geographic information system (GIS) technology that allows data about hazards and climate risks to be overlayed with existing maps of cities has made it easier for authorities to do risk assessments, she added.

That and other technologies are among the measures being used in a range of cities around Latin America to deal with worsening economic and human losses from floods.

In recent decades, Rio de Janeiro, for instance, has put in place early warning systems to help evacuate people ahead of threats, mapped of floodplain areas, built shelters and conducted emergency drills in slum areas, Appleby said.

The city also has installed cameras to monitor street flooding and set up social media alert systems.

Other cities are introducing digital sensors to try to cut risks. Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, is developing a network of sensors to monitor rainfall and feed back data in real time to the city’s central control centre.

Ensuring climate change adaptation measures are included in all urban planning is crucial, Appleby said, noting that the city of Belo Horizonte, in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state, is one of those leading the way.

“It’s in the process of creating a new masterplan for the city and they are integrating all their adaption measures into their masterplan. That is really ahead of the curve,” she said.

To be effective, climate adaption plans must include the input of local communities, according to Anjali Mahendra, head of research at the World Resources Institute Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

“Latin American cities are particularly good with involving communities,” she said.

That’s largely because early urbanization in the region means cities have had longer experience working with informal settlements and other disadvantaged communities, she said.

African and South Asian cities, facing rapid urbanization are “starting to learn from some Latin American cities,” Mahendra said.

Colombia’s second city of Medellin and Ecuador’s capital Quito – which has a climate change panel that includes youth, women and indigenous groups – in particular have worked hard to include local communities in decisions about urban planning and climate risks, said Mahendra.

USING NATURE

To tackle growing flood threats, more investment also is needed in “nature-based solutions” – such as expanding green areas to absorb floodwaters, said Pedro Ribeiro, head of the Urban Flooding Network at C40, a group of cities pushing climate action.

Creating green buffer areas to stem urban sprawl and protecting and restoring degraded ecosystems around cities, including forests, watersheds, grasslands and wetlands, can help slow the movement of water and avoid flooding, he said.

“It’s easier to recover ecosystems that were in the city before building .. and the results are better” than trying to establish wholly new anti-flooding systems, Ribeiro said.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by XXXX. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

U.S. states declare emergencies to help farmers hit by propane shortage

(Reuters) – At least eight U.S. Midwest states declared emergencies in recent weeks over regional shortages of propane needed by grain farmers to dry their crops amid a late harvest and wet weather.

Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin eased restrictions on the transport of propane to help alleviate the local shortages. There is no nationwide shortage and residential propane prices recently were about 22% below that of a year ago.

Spring flooding in U.S. Midwest farming states led to late harvests that have triggered a surge in demand for the fuel used to reduce moisture in corn crops to ready for sale or to safely store the grain.

“The late harvest and high demand for petroleum products throughout the Midwest have resulted in low supplies of propane as well as difficulty transporting,” according to a notice on Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ website.

The state’s declaration relaxes size and weight limits on vehicle transport. An earlier proclamation eased operating-hour rules on propane carriers. The latest rule, like most of the other states’ orders, is effective for a month.

Propane carriers faced four- to six-hour waits last week at the Conway, Kansas, propane terminal that is the nation’s second-largest, and drivers were facing restrictions due to the wait, one official said.

“There is plenty of propane on hand in the country,” said Greg Noll, executive vice president of Propane Marketers Association of Kansas. “We just need to get it from the points that have it on hand to the points where it is needed.”

Texas, which is home to the nation’s largest storage in Mont Belvieu, reported no emergency or shortage.

Consumers have not faced shortages because most homeowners would have had their tanks filled by now, said Noll.

Residential propane prices at the start of the U.S. heating season were under $2 a gallon, or about 22% lower than at the start of winter last year, according to government data issued on Monday.

Propane and propylene stocks were 97.6 million barrels the week ended Nov. 8, up nearly 14 million barrels from a year-ago, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported last week. It said average wholesale propane prices in the Midwest were 78 cents a gallon excluding taxes, flat from a year earlier.

(Reporting by Arpan Varghese and Nakul Iyer in Bengaluru, Gary McWilliams in Houston; editing by Bill Berkrot)

Venice hit by another ferocious high tide, flooding city

By Riccardo Bastianello and Emily G Roe

VENICE (Reuters) – An exceptionally high tide hit Venice again on Friday just three days after the city suffered its worst flooding in more than 50 years, leaving squares, shops and hotels once more inundated.

Mayor Luigi Brugnaro closed access to the submerged St. Mark’s Square and issued an international appeal for funds, warning that the damage caused by this week’s floods could rise to one billion euros.

Local authorities said the high tide peaked at 154 cm (5.05 ft), slightly below expectations and significantly lower than the 187 cm level reached on Tuesday, which was the second highest tide ever recorded in Venice.

But it was still enough to leave 70% of the city under water, fraying the nerves of locals who faced yet another large-scale clean-up operation.

“We have been in this emergency for days and we just can’t put up with it any more,” said Venetian resident Nava Naccara.

The government declared a state of emergency for Venice on Thursday, allocating 20 million euros ($22 million) to address the immediate damage, but Brugnaro predicted the costs would be vastly higher and launched a fund to help pay for repairs.

“Venice was destroyed the other day. We are talking about damage totaling a billion euros,” he said in a video.

Sirens wailed across the city from the early morning hours, warning of the impending high tide. Sea water swiftly filled the crypt beneath St. Mark’s Basilica, built more than a thousand years ago.

Venice, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is spread over 118 islands and once presided over a powerful maritime empire. The city is filled with Gothic architectural masterpieces which house paintings by some of Italy’s most important artists.

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said initial checks suggested the damage to St. Mark’s was not irreparable, but warned that more than 50 churches across the city had been flooded this week.

“Visiting here you see that the disaster is much bigger than you think when you watch the images on television,” he said.

CLIMATE CHANGE

After Friday’s high waters, forecasters predicted tides of up to 110-120 cm during the weekend. In normal conditions, tides of 80-90cm are generally seen as high but manageable.

The mayor has blamed climate change for the ever-increasing flood waters that the city has had to deal with in recent years, with the mean sea level estimated to be more than 20 cm higher than it was a century ago, and set to raise much further.

Groups of volunteers and students arrived in the city center to help businesses mop up, while schools remained closed, as they have been most of the week.

“When you hear the name Venice, it is always like sunsets and everything pretty but it is a bit crazy now that we are here,” said British tourist Chelsea Smart. “I knew it was going to flood … but I didn’t expect it to be this high.”

At the city’s internationally renowned bookshop Acqua Alta — the Italian for high water — staff were trying to dry out thousands of water-damaged books and prints, usually kept in boats, bath tubs and plastic bins.

“The only thing we were able to do was to raise the books as much as possible but unfortunately even that wasn’t enough … about half of the bookshop was completely flooded,” said Oriana, who works in the store.

Some shops stayed open throughout the high tide, welcoming in hardy customers wading through the waters in boots up to their thighs. Other stores remained shuttered, with some owners saying they had no idea when they could resume trade.

“Our electrics are burnt out,” said Nicola Gastaldon, who runs a city-center bar. “This is an old bar and all the woodwork inside is from the 1920s and earlier which we will have to scrub down with fresh water and then clean up again.”

A flood barrier designed to protect Venice from high tides is not expected to start working until the end of 2021, with the project plagued by the sort of problems that have come to characterize major Italian infrastructure programs — corruption, cost overruns and prolonged delays.

(Additional reporting by Giulia Segreti in Rome; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Venice still waiting for Moses to hold back the seas

A car is pictured submerged in flood water in Venice, Italy November 13, 2019. Vigili del Fuoco/Handout via REUTERS

By Riccardo Bastianello and Crispian Balmer

VENICE/ROME (Reuters) – If everything had gone according to plan, Tuesday’s high tide should never have reached the lagoon city of Venice, let alone flood its basilica, submerge its squares and inundate its historic palaces.

But things in Italy rarely go according to plan, especially if you are talking about the execution of a mega infrastructure project involving massive public financing and complex, cutting-edge engineering.

Following the worst flooding in its history in 1966, the Italian government asked engineers to draw up plans to build a barrier at sea to defend one of the world’s most picturesque yet fragile cities from the constant threat of high tides.

Fast forward to 2003 and construction finally started with completion set for 2011. But the project, known as Mose, has been plagued by the sort of problems that have come to characterize many major Italian construction programs — corruption, cost overruns and prolonged delays.

Engineers are now predicting the sea defense system will go on line at the end of 2021 at a cost of 5.5 billion euros ($6.1 billion) against an original estimate of 1.6 billion euros.

“These delays are an embarrassment for all of Italy and we urgently need a solution,” Alessandro Morelli, the head of parliament’s transport commission said on Wednesday, promising to dispatch lawmakers to Venice to review the program.

The good news is they will discover that the building work is almost complete. The bad news is no-one is sure how it will cope with the growing phenomenon of flooding and whether it might prove too little, too late.

MOBILE BARRIERS

Mose is an acronym for “Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico”, or “Experimental Electromechanical Module”, and refers to the biblical figure Moses who parted the Red Sea to enable the Israelites to flee to safety from Egypt.

The modern-day Moses consists of 78 bright yellow mobile barriers buried in the water that, when activated, will rise above the surface and prevent surging tides from the Adriatic Sea flooding the delicate Venetian lagoon.

“If Mose had been working, then we would have avoided this exceptional high tide,” Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said after Tuesday’s floods, which followed a tide of 187 cm (6ft 2ins) — the worst since the 194 cm recorded in 1966.

All 78 gates are now in place and engineers are working on the mechanics of raising them simultaneously once tides of more than 110 cm are forecast, with first testing expected next year.

But there is no guarantee it will go smoothly.

Part of the submerged infrastructure has already started to rust and a source close to the consortium building the mobile dam told Reuters on Wednesday it would cost some 100 million euros a year to maintain — much higher than original estimates.

The source, who declined to be named, was confident that once operational, it could defend Venice from tides of up to 3 meters high, well beyond the current record.

But some experts worry that the system was not designed to deal with the sort of rising sea waters that recent climate-change models have predicted.

A report http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/FIELD/Venice/pdf/rapporto1_very%20high%20res.pdf by the U.N.’s science and culture agency UNESCO says Mose was planned on a base scenario of sea levels in the northern Adriatic rising some 22 cm by 2100, but many scientists fear that assumption is far too optimistic.

“The planned mobile barriers might be able to avoid flooding for the next few decades, but the sea will eventually rise to a level where even continuous closures will not be able to protect the city from flooding,” the 2011 UNESCO report concluded.

($1 = 0.9074 euros)

(Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Rescuers search waist-high muddy waters for missing people in typhoon-hit Japan

By Kwiyeon Ha and Kyung Hoon Kim

NAGANO, Japan (Reuters) – Rescue workers waded through muddy, waist-high waters on Monday searching for missing people after one of the worst typhoons to hit Japan in recent history, while rain fell again in some affected areas, stoking fears of further flooding.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said vast areas had been struck by the storm and called for urgent support to those affected.

At least 56 people were killed in the typhoon, which left vast sections of towns in central and eastern Japan under water, with another 15 missing and 211 injured, public broadcaster NHK said.

Tens of thousands of rescue workers and a fleet of helicopters fanned out in the affected areas, officials said.

“There still are many residents who have yet to be accounted for. Our people in uniform are working day and night in search and rescue operations,” Abe told an emergency meeting of ministers.

“Damage has been made in an extremely wide range of areas, and more than 30,000 people are still being forced to remain in the state of evacuation. It is our urgent task to offer meticulous support to those who have been affected.”

Typhoon Hagibis, which means “speed” in the Philippine language Tagalog, made landfall on Japan’s main island of Honshu on Saturday and headed out to sea early on Sunday.

Groups of rescuers wearing goggles and snorkels looked for survivors while making their way in waist-high water in Nagano, central Japan, where the Chikuma River inundated swathes of land. A middle-aged man in Nagano, asked about the situation around his house, told NHK: “It’s just like a lake.”

Yoshinobu Tsuchiya, 69, returned on Monday morning to his home in Nagano city, near where the Chikuma had breached its banks, to find that his first floor had been flooded and that the garden he tended had turned to brown mud.

“So this is what it’s come to,” Tsuchiya sighed to the Nikkei newspaper. “I can’t even imagine when we’ll finish cleaning up. I’m sick of this flood.”

A neighbour in his 60s told the newspaper: “This is just like a tsunami. This is hopeless.”

At a second emergency meeting on Monday, Abe urged ministers to do their utmost to help evacuees return to normal life as soon as possible.

More than 110,000 police officers, firefighters, soldiers and coastguard personnel, as well as some 100 helicopters, were mobilised for Monday’s rescue operations, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Heavy rain was forecast for Monday night in some parts of central and eastern Japan, where soil is already loosened by record-breaking downpours from the typhoon, prompting Suga to urge residents to keep their guard up.

“Rain is expected in affected areas today. Because of the rain we have seen so far, levels of water are high in some rivers and soil is loose in some areas,” Suga said. “Please remain on your guard for landslides and river overflows.”

A Nagano city official said there were some showers by early afternoon, although they were not heavy.

Some parts of Japan saw about one third of their average annual precipitation just over the weekend, causing 37 rivers to break their banks, NHK said.

More than 77,000 households were still without power by mid-afternoon on Monday, a national holiday, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said. That was down from 262,000 households as of midday on Sunday.

Also, about 136,000 households were without running water as of Monday morning, Suga said.

In Fukushima, north of the capital, Tokyo Electric Power Co <9501.T> reported nine cases of irregular readings from sensors monitoring water over the weekend at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was crippled by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

But a Tokyo Electric official said on Monday eight of the irregular readings were triggered by rainwater, and the other one by a malfunction of a monitor, and that there was no leakage of contaminated water.

(Reporting by Kyung Hoon Kim, Kwiyeon Ha; Writing by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

More than 1,600 die in India’s heaviest monsoon season for 25 years

By Devjyot Ghoshal and Saurabh Sharma

NEW DELHI/LUCKNOW (Reuters) – The heaviest monsoon rains to lash India in 25 years have killed more than 1,600 people since June, government data showed on Tuesday, as authorities battled floods in two northern states and muddy waters swirled inside a major city.

The monsoon, which typically lasts between June and September, has already delivered 10% more rain than a 50-year average, and is expected to withdraw only after early October, more than a month later than usual.

The extended rains have wreaked havoc, with northern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states the worst hit in the latest spell of intense downpours, killing 144 people since last Friday, two officials said.

In Patna, Bihar’s riverside capital city that is home to around two million people, residents said they were wading through waist-deep water to buy essential items like food and milk.

Ranjeev Kumar, 65, a resident of Patna’s Ashiyana neighbourhood, told Reuters by telephone that the entire area was stranded by the water.

“The government is not doing any rescue and the situation is very serious here,” he said.

On Monday, relief workers rescued Bihar’s Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi from his home in Patna. Video footage showed him dressed in shorts and a t-shirt as he was brought out on a raft along with his family members.

Saket Kumar Singh, who lives in the city’s Boring Road area, said he was stranded for four days, with about two feet of water inside his house.

“There was no electricity, and despite having money I was helpless,” Singh, 45, said.

In neighboring Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, heavy rains have brought down more than 800 homes and swathes of farmland are submerged.

Data released by the federal home ministry shows that 1,673 people have died because of floods and heavy rains this year, as of Sept. 29.

Officials said that many of these fatalities were caused due to wall and building collapses, including in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, the western state that has seen 371 flood-related deaths in 2019, the highest in the country.

“The danger of old or weak structures collapsing increases during the heavy rainfall, like what happened this time,” Chandrakant Sharma, a flood expert with Uttar Pradesh’s disaster relief department, told Reuters.

India’s flood prevention and forecasting systems are lacking, other experts say, even as the total flood-prone area in the country has increased in recent decades because of deforestation, degradation of water bodies, and climate change.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in NEW DELHI and Saurabh Sharma in LUCKNOW, Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in MUMBAI; Editing by Peter Graff)

Typhoon lashes Japanese capital, one dead, power, transport disrupted

Passengers are stranded after railways and subway operators suspended their services due to Typhoon Faxai, at Narita airport in Narita, east of Tokyo, Japan September 9, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – One of the strongest typhoons to hit eastern Japan in recent years struck just east of the capital Tokyo on Monday, killing one woman, with record-breaking winds and stinging rain damaging buildings and disrupting transport.

More than 160 flights were canceled and scores of train lines closed for hours, snarling the morning commute for millions in a greater Tokyo area with a population of some 36 million.

Direct train service between Narita airport and the capital remained severely limited into the evening, with thousands of irritated travelers packed into a key transport hub for both the Rugby World Cup starting later this month and next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“They simply had no contingency plan…,” one weary traveler who lives in Tokyo said of the scene, in which people crowded the exit areas and food ran out in airport stores.

“They let planes land … and thousands of passengers were disgorged into an airport that was cut off – no buses, no JR trains. The only connection was a private train running every half hour halfway to Tokyo.”

The man, who said he arrived just before 4 p.m. local time and only caught a bus at 7:30 p.m. after standing in line, added: “My wife said: what if this happens during the Olympics?”

Typhoon Faxai, a Lao woman’s name, slammed ashore near the city of Chiba shortly before dawn, bringing with it wind gusts of 207 kmh (128 mph), the strongest ever recorded in Chiba, national broadcaster NHK said.

A woman in her fifties was confirmed dead after she was found in a Tokyo street and taken to hospital. Footage from a nearby security camera showed she had been smashed against a building by strong winds, NHK reported.

Another woman in her 20s was rescued from her house in Ichihara, east of Tokyo, after it was partly crushed when a metal pole from a golf driving range fell on it. She was seriously injured.

A satellite broadcast television receiving antenna, which was blown away by strong winds caused by Typhoon Faxai, is seen on a street in Tokyo, Japan September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

A satellite broadcast television receiving antenna, which was blown away by strong winds caused by Typhoon Faxai, is seen on a street in Tokyo, Japan September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

“There was a huge grinding noise, I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then I looked up and saw a big hole in the roof, but I was so keyed up I couldn’t figure out what had happened,” a neighbor said.

Some minor landslides occurred and a bridge was washed away, while as many as 930,000 houses lost power at one point, NHK said, including the entire city of Kamogawa. But the number of homes without power had dropped to 840,000 by early Monday afternoon, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said.

Some concrete electric poles were snapped off at their bases, while electricity towers in Chiba were toppled over. Some panels of a floating solar power plant southeast of Tokyo were on fire.

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency said a cooling tower at its research reactor at Oarai, which has not been in operation since 2006 and is set to be decommissioned, had fallen, but there was no radiation leakage, impact on workers or the surrounding environment.

A Sony Corp <6758.T> spokesman said operations at its plant in Kisarazu, southeast of Tokyo, were suspended due to power outages. The company could not say when the plant, which assembles PlayStation gaming consoles, would reopen.

Two Nissan factories west of Tokyo, including its Oppama plant, suspended operations due to flooding, NHK said.

DESERTED STREETS

About four to five typhoons make landfall in Japan every year, but it is unusual for them to do so near Tokyo. NHK said Faxai was the strongest storm in the Tokyo area in several years.

Streets normally busy with commuters walking or bicycling were deserted, with winds just east of Tokyo shaking buildings.

Metal signs were torn from buildings, trucks overturned, the metal roof of a petrol station torn off and glass display cases destroyed, scattering sidewalks with broken glass.

Trees were uprooted throughout the metropolitan area, some falling on train tracks to further snarl transport.

Some 2,000 people were ordered to leave their homes at one point because of the danger of landslides, NHK said.

Parts of the high-speed Tokaido Shinkansen train line were halted but service resumed after several hours. It took hours for other lines to resume, packing stations with impatient commuters fanning themselves in the humid air.

Temperatures shot up to unseasonably hot levels in the wake of the storm, prompting authorities to warn of the danger of heatstroke.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies, Chris Gallagher, Linda sieg, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Robert Birsel/Mark Heinrich)