Millions told to evacuate as Super Typhoon Hagibis slams into Japan - throwing Rugby World Cup into chaos

Danielle Demetriou
Surging waves hit ahead of Hagibis' landfall - AP

At least six million people were told to evacuate their homes as Super Typhoon Hagibis smashed into Japan on Saturday, triggering mudslides, flooding and the heaviest rain and winds in 60 years.

Within hours of the typhoon making landfall at around 7pm local time (11am UK), at least two people were dead, nine were missing and more than 80 were injured, according to local media.

Officials warned that the storm could be the most powerful to hit Japan since one of the worst typhoons on record devastated Tokyo and surrounding areas in 1958, killing more than 1,200 people.

Even before the storm hit, there were reports of at least one death, with a 50-year-old man killed when his car overturned in strong winds in Chiba Prefecture, an area just east of Tokyo still recovering from a strong typhoon which hit last month. Four others, including two children, were also injured by a tornado in the same area.

One resident there told NHK: “When the winds suddenly hit, they blew the roof off my house. The noise was awful. One of my three children was injured but is now in a hospital.”

Even before the typhoon hit, strong winds brought havoc to areas such as Chiba, near Tokyo  Credit: Katsuya Miyagawa/Kyodo News

The typhoon had been brewing over the Pacific Ocean with recorded winds of more than 145 mph. Authorities issued warnings that with gusts likely to exceed that figure, some houses were at risk of being blown down. 

The Japan Meteorological Agency warned of as much as 30 inches of rain in the 24-hour period until midnight on Saturday. 

Television footage showed images of damage to roofs and walls of buildings in storm-hit spots across Japan. More than 16,000 homes, mainly along the Pacific coastline, were without electricity. 

Some residential areas along the coast in Shizuoka were also reported as being submerged up to around knee height in tidal surges. The approaching typhoon caused rivers to overflow in the area, with reports of at least one person swept away, and widespread landslide warnings also in place.

Three people were missing in Gunma Prefecture after a landslide swept through six houses.

The weather system passed directly over Tokyo, one of seven regions subject to the non-compulsory evacuation orders - and where a 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit just ahead of the typhoon's arrival.  Around 17,000 Self-Defence Forces personnel were on standby across the country for potential deployment on rescue operations.

Even as the typhoon moved away from the capital late on Saturday, one expert warned of further flooding as several surrounding prefectures began releasing water from dams, letting it flow downstream.

"The situation is now worse than this evening," Nobuyuki Tsuchiya, director of the Japan Riverfront Research Centre, told Reuters. About 1.5 million people in Tokyo live below sea level.

Japan's national rugby team waded through floodwater to reach the pitch for practice, with a decision still to be made on Sunday's matches Credit: Japan Rugby Football Union/Reuters

A study by the Japan Society of Civil Engineers in June 2018 concluded that a huge storm surge in Tokyo Bay could lead to 8,000 deaths and cause damage estimated at Y115 trillion (£84 billion). 

Much of the damage would be to infrastructure, such as underground railway lines, roads and bridges, as well as structures on vulnerable reclaimed land in the bay. 

A disaster simulation prepared by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 2018 suggested that more than 80 square miles of the city could be inundated in a worst-case scenario, accounting for one-third of the entire city. In low-lying areas, water levels could rise as high as 32 feet above mean sea level. 

The government’s estimations are based on data from Typhoon Muroto, which struck the city in September 1934, killing 3,066 people, injuring a further 13,000 and leaving 200,000 people homeless. 

Authorities in central Japan called on residents of coastal regions to evacuate to higher ground inland and alerts were sent out to mobile phones through messaging systems and are running on television and radio broadcasts. 

Train services in and around Tokyo were cancelled throughout Saturday, along with long-distance bullet train services. Japanese airlines grounded all domestic and international flights out of Narita and Haneda, the two airports that serve the capital, while theme parks and many shops closed their doors.

There are fears for low-lying coastal areas, with residents warned they should move to higher ground inland Credit: Kyodo News/AP

A number of companies, including car makers Toyota and Honda, have halted production. 

Saturday’s Rugby World Cup game between England and France in Yokohama has been cancelled, along with the Italy-New Zealand clash in Toyota City. 

A decision is due to be made at midnight on games scheduled for Sunday, including the all-important Scotland-Japan game, which will decide which nation emerges from the group stages of the tournament.

The looming super typhoon has also triggered a frenzy of last-minute buying, with store shelves emptied of bread, instant noodles, bottled water and other perishable foods. Stores in some areas have also reportedly run out of batteries and packing tape that is being put across windows to reduce the possibility of flying glass. 

Super Typhoon Hagibis - the Tagalog word for “speed” - is the second major storm to hit Japan in just over a month. 

Typhoon Faxai struck eastern Japan on September 9, killing three people, leaving more than 40 injured and leaving scenes of devastation in its wake. At the peak of the storm, more than 930,000 people were without power and it took two weeks for some areas to have electricity restored.