- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 21, 2011

TOKYO (AP) — A powerful typhoon slammed into Japan on Wednesday, halting trains and leaving 13 people dead or missing in south-central regions before grazing a crippled nuclear plant and heaping rain on the tsunami-ravaged northeast.

Officials at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, where engineers still are struggling with small radiation leaks because of tsunami damage, expressed relief that Typhoon Roke’s driving winds and rain caused no immediate problems there other than a broken security camera.

“The worst seems to be over,” said Takeo Iwamoto, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, after the storm passed just west of the facility on its way north.

But the typhoon brought new misery to the northeastern region already slammed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, dumping up to 17 inches of rain in some areas.

Authorities warned of a high risk of mudslides in that region. Hundreds of tsunami survivors in government shelters in the Miyagi state town of Onagawa were forced to evacuate for fear of flooding.

More than 200,000 households in central Japan were without electricity late Wednesday. Police and local media reported 13 people dead or missing in southern and central regions, many of them believed swept away by rivers swollen with rains.

The storm, packing sustained winds of up to 100 mph, made landfall in the early afternoon near the city of Hamamatsu, about 125 miles west of Tokyo. The fast-moving storm went past the capital in the evening and then headed up into the northeast, where it was losing strength.

In Tokyo, where many rush-hour commuter trains were suspended, thousands of commuters trying to get home were stuck at stations across the sprawling city.

“The hotels in the vicinity are all booked up, so I’m waiting for the bullet train to restart,” Hiromu Harada, a 60-year-old businessman, said dejectedly at Tokyo Station.

Fire department officials reported three people injured in Tokyo. In the trendy shopping district of Shibuya, winds knocked a tree onto a sidewalk, but no one was hurt. Pedestrians struggled to walk straight in powerful winds that made umbrellas useless.

At the Fukushima plant, engineers still are working to stabilize the reactors six months after three of them melted down when the tsunami disabled the plant’s power and backup generators.

Mr. Iwamoto said the storm passed without damaging the reactors’ cooling systems, which are crucial to keeping them under control. However, a closed-circuit camera that shows exteriors of the reactor buildings abruptly stopped, he said.

Workers were trying to prevent pools of contaminated water from flooding and leaking outside the complex, said Junichi Matsumoto, another power company spokesman.

“The contaminated water levels have been rising, and we are watching the situation very closely to make sure it stays there,” Mr. Matsumoto told reporters.

As the storm headed further into the north, it triggered landslides in parts of Miyagi state that were hit by the March disasters. The local government requested the help of defense troops. Dozens of schools canceled classes.

Story Continues →