Japanese troops rescue residents trapped by raging floodwaters
By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 10, 2015
YOKOHAMA, Japan — Japan Self-Defense Forces teams carried out dramatic rescues from the air Thursday after a river broke through its bank and sent raging floodwaters pouring into a small city north of Tokyo.
SDF and media helicopters swarmed above Joso, in Ibaraki Prefecture about 30 miles north of downtown Tokyo, as the Kinu River swept away homes. NHK television’s live coverage showed rescuers being lowered onto roofs and second-floor balconies to evacuate several families, in some cases just moments before their homes fell apart.
One man clung to a utility pole as fast-rising water lapped at his feet. A chopper hovered above the utility lines and lowered a rescuer nearby. The rescuer waded over, attached the man to a harness and pulled him to safety.
Another man was plucked from a crumbling roof with his dog wrapped in a plastic bag and wedged between him and his rescuer.
The heavy rain and landslides continued the day after Tropical Storm Etau drenched Tokyo, Nagoya and other heavily populated areas on Japan’s Honshu mainland.
On Thursday morning, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued emergency warnings for Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures, triggering evacuation orders for tens of thousands of residents.
“This is a scale of downpour that we have not experienced before,” JMA forecaster Takuya Deshimaru told a news conference.
Much of eastern Japan, including Yokosuka Naval Base, remained under heavy rain and landslide warnings as of Thursday afternoon. U.S. military bases in the Tokyo metropolitan area endured another rainy day but did not appear to suffer significant damage.
The Japanese government had not requested any help, U.S. Forces Japan and Navy officials said Thursday afternoon.
Parts of eastern Japan have seen more than 2 feet of rain since Monday, according to local weather reports.
Service was suspended on several JR East train lines Thursday afternoon, meaning a second day of difficult rush-hour commutes for many people living in the Tokyo region.
On Wednesday, Tropical Storm Etau came ashore with 45 mph sustained winds and rainstorms that combined with a separate weather front already in the region. Sporadic injuries were reported throughout Honshu, and a death was reported after a landslide at a Tochigi mine Tuesday.
Also on Wednesday, rain overwhelmed the pumps at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant — which was heavily damaged by a tsunami caused by a major earthquake in March 2011 — leaking more radioactive water into the ocean, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced.
It is the seventh time that possible or confirmed leaks exceeded pumping capacity since the utility began moving the water through a canal system in April, according to the Mainichi newspaper.