Saturday, September 18

Frogmen join body hunt as death tolls hit 24


OSHIMA, Japan: Frogmen were yesterday scouring waters off the coast of a Japanese island where landslides buried houses when a huge typhoon rolled through, as the death toll reached 24.

Coastguards joined the grim search for the 26 people still unaccounted for after a mountainside collapsed on the island of Oshima, 120 kilometres south of the Japanese capital.

About 1,000 troops, firefighters and police were continuing their search on land, using shovels to move the huge volumes of earth that had swamped homes, as those affected by the disaster looked on.

“Even if I wanted to rebuild my home now, is it worth it at my age?” said Masako Yanasu, 67, whose guest-house was badly damaged by the landslide.

“I would be dead before it was done,” she told AFP. “I don’t know what to do. Everyone is dead in the neighbourhood, everyone I used to know.”

A total of 22 people are now known to have died on the island. A woman was also killed in western Tokyo and the body of one of two elementary schoolchildren believed to have been near a beach in Kanagawa when the storm hit had been found, a local official said.

The other child and a man in Chiba were still listed as missing.

Typhoon Wipha, the most powerful in ten years, veered up the coast of the Japanese archipelago overnight Tuesday into Wednesday.

The eye of the storm remained offshore but the strong winds and heavy rain that it brought wreaked devastation on Oshima, one of a number of far-flung islands that are administratively part of metropolitan Tokyo.

The island was bracing for bad weather with another typhoon developing off Japan’s far south, threatening weekend rain in the region that could hamper rescue operations.

“We are concerned about a secondary disaster because of the possibility of rain over the weekend,” land, infrastructure transport and tourism minister Akihiro Ota told reporters in Tokyo.

His ministry plans to set up surveillance cameras to monitor signs of further landslides near the stricken zone, government officials said.

Tokyo governor Naoki Inose, who visited rescue workers on Thursday, urged them to do their utmost to find anyone who was still alive, Jiji Press reported.

“The 72-hour ‘golden rescue period’ is going to be over soon,” he said, referring to the time after which it is thought survival in a disaster like this is unlikely. “I expect you to do everything you can.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was readying to visit the island on Sunday where he would board a helicopter to see the scars left by the storm before visiting evacuation centres, public broadcaster NHK reported.

Disaster management minister Keiji Furuya and defence minister Itsunori Onodera were expected to go on Saturday, reports said. — AFP