Emergency workers scrambled to rescue citizens in northern Japan after a 6.6-magnitude earthquake claimed at least nine lives early on Thursday, a day after the country was hit by the most powerful typhoon in 25 years.
More than 30 people were reported missing on Hokkaido, many in the village of Atsuma, after homes were engulfed by landslides. Dozens of homes were destroyed and several million lost power after the quake damaged a major thermal plant supplying the region, AFP reported.
The quake, which was relatively shallow, which struck 62 kilometers southeast of the regional capital Sapporo.
All flights were cancelled from Sapporo’s main Chitose airport, where the quake brought down part of a ceiling and burst a water pipe. Local buses and trains and bullet train services were halted.
A friendly football match between Japan and Chile planned for Sapporo was cancelled. The Japanese Football Association blamed the quake’s severe impact on power and transport.
“We will do our best to save lives,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after an emergency cabinet meeting.
Around 20,000 rescue workers, including police and members of the Self-Defence Forces responded to the disaster, a government spokesman said. Thousands more troops were expected to join the effort.
Jebi: winds of up to 216 kmh
The quake came shortly a day after Typhoon Jebi brought fierce winds of up to 216 kilometers an hour, plus heavy rain and left a trail of destruction in western Japan. At least 11 people were killed and many hundreds more injured.
A 2,500-ton tanker was swept into a bridge leading to Kansai International Airport, which had to be shut down, while trucks were overturned and billboards and rooves were blown away.
Damage to the bridge left Kansai airport temporarily cut off with about 3,000 travelers and staff stranded overnight as high waves flooded the runways and knocked out power in some buildings, AFP reported.
On Wednesday boats began ferrying people out of the airport, and buses began to run on one side of the damaged bridge after safety inspections.
Airport spokeswoman Yurino Sanada told AFP: “We don’t know how many hours we need to bring everyone out but we’re doing our best to finish it by the end of today.”
There was no indication when the airport, which operates over 400 flights a day. Kyodo News said it could take up to a week.
“We had a blackout so there was no air conditioning. It was hot,” a woman told public broadcaster NHK after being ferried to Kobe. “I’d never expected this amount of damage from a typhoon.”
Typhoon Jebi made landfall at midday on Tuesday and moved quickly over the mainland, smashing through the major manufacturing area around Osaka, Japan’s second city, wrecking infrastructure and destroying homes.
Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said 11 people had been killed and 470 injured. According to Kansai Electric, more than 400,000 households were still without power.
In Kyoto, home to ancient temples and shrines, part of the ceiling of the main railway station fell down, while in nearby Osaka, the high winds tore scaffolding from a multistorey building.
Businesses, factories and schools in the affected area shut down while the storm swept across the country, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights, ferry services and some bullet trains.
Pictures showed containers piled up like dominos and vehicles thrown together by the wind, with others overturned.
More than 1.2 million people had been advised to leave their homes as Jebi approached Kansai, the country’s industrial heartland, but it was unclear how many had heeded the warning. Around 16,000 people spent the night in shelters, local media said.
Economists said it was too early to gauge the storm’s impact on local industry, with much depending on how long the airport remains closed.
Around 10% of Japan’s exports leave from Kansai airport, said Yusuke Ichikawa, an economist at Mizuho Research Institute. “Logistics could be affected as it may take time for Kansai airport to restart operations,” he told AFP.
But with other airports and ports nearby, companies might be able to reroute shipments to minimize disruption, he said.
Japan is regularly hit by powerful typhoons in the summer and autumn, many of which cause flooding and landslides in rural areas.
But Jebi was far from the deadliest storm seen in recent years. In 2011 Typhoon Talas killed 82 people in the area, while in 2013 a storm that struck south of Tokyo left 40 people dead.
– reporting by Agence France-Presse