Typhoon Kills 66 in Japan, Deadliest in 22 Years

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Japan's deadliest typhoon in more than two decades killed 66 people, news reports said on Thursday as rescuers searched frantically for 22 still missing in floods and landslides.

Many people died in landslides set off by the heavy rains from Typhoon Tokage that pounded much of Japan on Wednesday. Others died in flooding or were swept away by massive waves which lashed the coast.

Others who were saved from flooding by rescue workers in helicopters and rubber rafts were left shaken by the experience.

"I thought I wouldn't make it. I should have evacuated earlier," a woman told public broadcaster NHK after being rescued in Hyogo prefecture in western Japan.

Tokage, which means lizard in Japanese, moved out into the Pacific early on Thursday and was downgraded to a tropical depression soon after. It was a record 10th typhoon to hit Japan this year.

Kyodo news agency said at least 66 were killed and 22 were missing due to the typhoon, while the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 59 were killed and 22 missing.

According to the Meteorological Agency, the number of people killed or unaccounted for was the highest for a single typhoon since 95 died or went missing from a 1982 storm.

A total of 167 people, including 102 trainees aged around 20, were rescued from their ship, the 2,556-tonKaio Maru, which ran aground in Toyama, 255 km (158 miles) west of Tokyo. Sixteen of them suffered injuries such as broken wrists.

Among the dead were three people killed when high waves battered through a concrete breakwater and smashed into their home in Kochi, on Shikoku island in western Japan.

NHK said a wave measuring 17.79 meters (about 58 ft) -- as tall as a six-storey building -- pounded the city's shoreline on Wednesday afternoon just before waves hit residential homes.

"The waves just came up and crashed down on us," one woman said.

Rescuers in the western prefecture of Okayama dug through the rubble of seven homes devastated in a landslide, searching for possible survivors. Most of the areas hit by landslides were rural, and in many cases the houses were clustered just under steep slopes, a typical situation in mountainous Japan.

"There had already been a lot of rain from a previous typhoon (this month) ... The latest typhoon brought more rain, which was a cause of landslides," a Meteorological Agency official said.


"The main reason why the typhoon caused such huge damage is that its size was big with a radius of over 500 km (300 miles). That means the typhoon affected almost all of Japan for a long time with rain and winds," another Meteorological Agency official said. "Such a huge typhoon is very rare," he said.

Thirty-seven people, most of them elderly tourists, were forced to spend the night huddled together on top of a bus after being stranded by floodwaters.

They were rescued by helicopter and dinghy early on Thursday. One elderly woman collapsed into her rescuer's arms.

"The wind was very strong, it was raining very hard, it was cold. We all held onto each other's shoulders to stay together," one man on the bus told NHK. "We were very scared."

The storm sideswiped Tokyo, buffeting the city with strong winds and rain, before heading out to sea. It was downgraded to a tropical depression on Thursday morning.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda promised government help for affected areas. "I would like to express my heartfelt condolences ... We will take all possible measures," he told reporters.

The government later decided to send officials to affected areas on Friday to survey damage.

Storms and floods have killed more than 100 people in Japan this year and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. The previous typhoon, Ma-on, pummelled Tokyo and killed six people across the country earlier this month. (Additional reporting by Elaine Lies, Teruaki Ueno)