SCMP Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Tokyo orders massive evacuation


Updated at 11.15am:
Nearly 50,000 people in central Japan were ordered to evacuate their homes on Wednesday as a powerful tropical storm that has killed four people and injured dozens more bore down on Tokyo.
The storm, packing winds of up to 108 kilometres per hour (67 mph), already had forced 7,000 other people to flee their homes in southwestern Japan and left two missing, officials and the media said.
The storm, which was downgraded from a typhoon on Tuesday, is named Pabuk, or ''big freshwater fish'' in the Lao language. Typhoons are defined as having minimum surface winds of at least 118 kph.
National Police Agency officials said the four dead included a man blown off a roof while making repairs, and another man electrocuted while trying to clear debris from a railroad.
Though the outer areas of typhoons often pass over Japan at this time of year, officials said this was the first typhoon to directly hit Japan's main island in two years. Although Pabuk had weakened enough to be downgraded from typhoon status, they warned that it was moving slowly, increasing the amount of rain dumped on areas in its path and thus its potential for causing floods and landslides.
It was expected to pass over Tokyo later on Wednesday, where heavy rains and strong gusts of wind were already being felt. Commuters during the morning rush hour faced delays because of the rain, which was expected to reach as much as 200 millimetres.
The Meteorological Agency warned of possible landslides on the mountainous outskirts of Tokyo and said that flooding could occur in low-lying areas of the capital, home to 11 million people.
Pabuk was causing more serious problems farther west in Aichi prefecture (state), where officials ordered 48,700 people, most of them in the major industrial city of Nagoya, to prepare to evacuate their homes on Wednesday as nearby rivers threatened to overflow their banks, said Shingo Ando, a police spokesman.
Nagoya is 270 kilometres southwest of Tokyo.
Mitsuhiro Shinmura, a Nagoya city official, said 61 temporary shelters were set up to accept evacuees. The shelters, including city-run facilities and elementary schools, were stocked with blankets and food, he said.
The storm has disrupted transportation nationwide.
A super-express ''bullet'' train between Tokyo and the southern main island of Kyushu was cancelled Wednesday because of the heavy winds and rains, and other bullet train services were running at one-third of their normal rates.
Local train services were also halted or reduced in other areas in Pabuk's path, and 11 domestic airline flights were cancelled.
On Tuesday, Pabuk forced the cancellation of nearly 180 domestic and international flights in Japan, and flooding led to the closure of several major highways, media said.