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Rescue efforts continue after Typhoon Wipha

17 October 2013, 21:13

Oshima - Rescuers in Japan picked through mud and splintered houses on Thursday after a typhoon that killed at least 19 people, as hopes faded for dozens not seen since a landslide engulfed their homes.

Hundreds of police, firefighters and troops searched through the night in an area where buildings were swallowed when a mountainside collapsed.

Typhoon Wipha, dubbed the strongest in a decade, never actually made landfall as it surged past Japan, but violent winds and torrential rain set off mudslides that buried neighbourhoods on Oshima.

At least 18 people died and 35 were still missing on the island, which lies 120km south of the Japanese capital, a local official and media said.

One woman died in western Tokyo, police have said.

On Oshima, about 15 police officers spent the morning using chainsaws and shovels to free the body of an elderly woman buried in mud and the smashed remains of a wooden building, an AFP reporter said.

The woman was formally pronounced dead later in the day, taking the toll to 19.

Elsewhere troops, who arrived on the island on Wednesday morning just hours after it was raked by the storm, fanned out on paths up a mountainside shouting: "Is there anybody there?"

Spokesperson Yoshinori Sano said the men were "hopeful" of finding survivors among the devastation.

"A total of 278 of us came yesterday, and we have been looking for survivors since then, without sleep or rest," he told AFP.

"We are searching every inch of the area to find survivors, there is still hope."

Resident Tadashi Sogi said his house had been swept 30m, with much of it engulfed by the thick mud.

As he loaded his car with a few salvaged belongings, including a photograph album he said he was going back to join the rescue effort.

"The lives of other people come before all these things," he said, gesturing to his soiled mementos.

Some of the roughly 8 000 people who live on the island had sought shelter in evacuation centres as the huge storm approached, reporting water gushing into their homes as it dumped more than 12cm of rain on Oshima in an hour.

But criticism was growing on Thursday of the island's mayor, Masafumi Kawashima, who did not issue an evacuation advisory despite repeated warnings from meteorologists about the size of the typhoon.

Kawashima, who was away at a conference when the storm hit, told reporters he regretted not having told people to seek safety.

"I'd feared issuing an evacuation advisory in the middle of heavy rains in the dark could lead to a secondary disaster. But in retrospect, I think that was naive," he said.

Most of Japan, including the heaving capital, was spared the worst of the typhoon, although three other people were still officially missing in the greater Tokyo area.

They were two elementary schoolchildren who were believed to have been near a beach in Kanagawa prefecture, and a man in his 50s who had not been heard from since alerting authorities to a landslide near his house in Chiba prefecture.

Flights in and out of Tokyo were back to normal on Thursday, after about 400 cancellations on Wednesday affecting more than 60 000 passengers.



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