Typhoon Jebi struck the heart of one of Japan’s largest metro areas on Tuesday, killing at least eight people and shutting down Osaka’s main international airport indefinitely, leaving close to 3,000 people trapped inside. The storm – the strongest on earth so far in 2018 – made landfall on Tuesday, bringing widespread flooding and winds of up to 130 miles an hour; it paralyzed swaths of the country shuttering shops, factories and amusement parks.
The storm was the strongest to make a direct hit on the nation’s main islands in 25 years, causing high tides that flooded Kansai International Airport, a key gateway for flights from China and other Asian countries that was built on an artificial island in 1994.
The typhoon prompted government evacuation orders for more than 49,000 people across southern Japan, with an additional 2 million people advised to flee, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said. Early in the afternoon on Tuesday, an oil tanker unmoored by the storm crashed into the only bridge that connects Kansai International Airport in Osaka Bay to the mainland. The Coast Guard was using a helicopter and patrol boats to rescue crew members, the public broadcaster NHK said.
The storm traversed Japan’s main island of Honshu before traveling up its western coast, leaving a trail of death. Among the fatalities was the owner of a warehouse that collapsed on him, news reports said.
At least 700 flights have been canceled across Japan. Kansai Airport will not reopen on Wednesday. The local police said that travelers stranded at the airport, which sits on a man-made island, had been issued emergency water, bread and blankets, and that ferries were expected to start bringing people to safety Wednesday morning.
Typhoon #Jebi has become the strongest storm on Earth in 2018.
Meteorologist Erin Wenckstern explains why below, with more on the storm’s destructive force here: https://t.co/n1A4pTKvoQ pic.twitter.com/KlvhGNqSDq
— The Weather Network (@weathernetwork) September 4, 2018
Kansai is the nation’s third largest airport, after Narita, outside of Tokyo in Chiba Prefecture, and Haneda, near central Tokyo. In 2017, it handled 28 million passengers, three quarters of them from overseas.
The strongest tropical cyclone to hit Japan in 25 years, Typhoon Jebi, made landfall in Tokushima Prefecture on Tuesday (?: Getty Images) pic.twitter.com/7zE3hrWUTQ
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) September 4, 2018
One of the airport’s two runways and the ground floor of a terminal building, used for sorting luggage and other activities, were under dozens of centimeters of water.
The airport’s ground vehicles were partly submerged by the deluge, and an access bridge that connects the airfield was damaged by a 2,591-ton tanker that the storm unmoored and cast adrift. Public broadcaster NHK aired footage showing a huge crater in the bridge. The tanker had 11 crew aboard, and a helicopter rescue operation was underway.
Strong winds from #TyphoonJebi toss semi-trailer trucks like Tonka toys. Japan is still recovering from #TyphoonCimaron that swept through last month. pic.twitter.com/wBA3EhNOFL
— Pattern (@Pattern) September 4, 2018
In Kyoto, damage to the roof of the main rail station brought debris crashing down onto passengers below, injuring three people and closing parts of the station. News footage showed shipping containers strewn across Kobe port, a cargo hub. About 2.2 million homes were without power late Tuesday, according to a central government tally.
The typhoon hit during a summer of meteorological misery for Japan, with floods and landslides killing more than 200 people in western Japan in July, the same month that heat waves claimed more than 130 lives.
The transport ministry said it has been unable to assess the full amount of damage to Kansai International Airport and that no Japanese airport has reported such large-scale flooding in recent years. It is not known when the gateway might reopen. Repairing the bridge will take quite some time, according to West Nippon Expressway, the operator of the highway running across the bridge.
Kansai Airport plays a significant role in Japan’s distribution network, and the closure will severely disrupt supply chains, especially for semiconductors.
Last year, 5.64 trillion yen ($50.6 billion) in exports and 3.94 trillion yen in imports passed through the airport. Electronic components, such as semiconductors, were the top export at 1.29 trillion yen, while pharmaceuticals were the biggest import, at 690 billion yen. But without an access bridge, the flow of goods from this hub will cease as it becomes little more than an isolated island.
Precision equipment maker Disco may see delays in certain exports from its factory in nearby Hiroshima Prefecture. Semiconductor equipment manufacturer Screen Holdings uses the airport to deliver products and parts but will consider other channels, depending on how the situation develops, a spokesperson said.
Companies will work to secure other routes in the event of a prolonged restoration. A shipping company that handles home deliveries said it will use such alternative facilities as neighboring Osaka International Airport, also known as Itami Airport.
All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines canceled all domestic and international flights from Kansai Airport for Wednesday. The airport handled a record 28.8 million travelers last year as the region becomes more popular with tourists, especially in Asia. A slow recovery will inevitably hurt visitors to Japan.
The Tokaido and Sanyo bullet trains were also out of service Tuesday. The entire Tokaido line was suspended starting at 2 p.m., according to East Japan Railway, known as JR East, with only a special train delivering passengers stuck at stations between Tokyo and Nagoya overnight. Crews are hurrying to remove debris and restore operations, but as of 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday there was no timetable for when service will resume.
“We are teaming with local governments and related agencies, who I want to exert every effort to prevent the damage from expanding,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday afternoon in Tokyo at a meeting at the disaster response headquarters.
But Jebi, which means “swallow” in Korean, has already left untold economic damage in its wake, shutting down factories across a wide area.
Daikin Industries shut down its Osaka headquarters and three nearby plants on Tuesday, while Panasonic closed air conditioner and refrigerator production facilities in Shiga Prefecture. Daihatsu Motor shuttered three factories in the area, including its main plant in Osaka Prefecture.
Toyota Motor on Tuesday evening was forced to stop production at 11 car and component factories in Aichi Prefecture, where it is based. Plants in other areas were also shuttered. A Toyota representative said its production and supply networks over a broad area were affected but added that operations will resume Wednesday morning.
Panasonic also halted production, including at a Shiga Prefecture factory that makes air conditioners and refrigerators.
Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry says in statement that 1.4 million buildings are without power nationwide as of 5:30am local time after Typhoon Jebi slammed into western Japan on Tuesday. Kansai Electric, the utility worst hit, says in separate statement that there are 1.09 million buildings without power in its service area as of 6am.
Kansai electric, the utility worst hit, says in separate statement that there are 1.09 million buildings without power in its service area as of 6am. As many as 2.1 million buildings lost power at the height of the storm in Kansai’s service area and the utility has requested 40 high-voltage mobile power stations from rival power suppliers.
Powerful Typhoon Jebi brings death and destruction to western Japan where hundreds of flights were cancelled and over 1.6 million people remained without power https://t.co/GkmVYbNksD pic.twitter.com/vwDpUcz3VQ
— TRT World (@trtworld) September 4, 2018
Major department stores in the Kansai region, around Osaka, were forced to close. J. Front Retailing shut all eight of its Kansai stores for the whole day. It was the first time the Kobe store has closed since 1995, when a 7.2-magnitude earthquake devastated the city.
H2O Retailing, which operates the Hankyu and Hanshin department store chains, closed 12 stores in Kansai. Takashimaya and Kintetsu Department Store also shut some outlets.
Universal Studios Japan in Osaka was closed a full day for the first time in 17 years on Tuesday and will remain shut on Wednesday to continue clearing debris. The park is scheduled to reopen on Thursday.
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