55 Killed, 33 Missing as Typhoon Lashes Japan

Times Staff Writer

For the 10th time this year, a typhoon struck land Wednesday night and churned across Japan, killing at least 55 people, including a driver whose car was swallowed by a mudslide and a mail carrier who drowned while making his rounds.

Thirty-three people were reported missing.

It has become a record year for typhoons here; 10 of 23 have made landfall. City streets turned to muddy rivers, and trees were uprooted. High waves pounded Japan's thousands of miles of coastline, sweeping several fishermen out to sea.

The unusually high number of typhoons and the wreckage they have left have dominated the national conversation this fall. Typhoon-related deaths this year stand at 114.

The latest storm, called Tokage -- which means lizard in Japanese -- lashed Japan on Wednesday with sustained winds of 56 mph and gusts as high as 140 mph.

One meteorological station measured 21.6 inches of rainfall during the storm.

The winds and drenching rain shut down major transportation routes in this country of 126 million highly mobile people. Bullet trains between Tokyo and Osaka were suspended for several hours, and 981 flights were grounded, affecting about 127,000 passengers. Officials said it was the highest number of cancellations ever in one day.

Some of the victims were killed while trying to make quick repairs to roofs damaged by the storm. Five men were killed in a fishing port as they tried to bring boats ashore. And mudslides claimed others, including a family of three in their home.

Thirty-seven bus passengers were stranded when rising waters trapped their vehicle on a major road near Kyoto. They spent the night on the vehicle's roof before being rescued in the morning.

The repeated battering has left many Japanese reeling.

"All the neighbors were just finishing repairs from the last typhoon -- it's been a double punch," said Kumiko Ueno, 54, as she surveyed damage from the second storm to flood her home this year. Ueno lives in Kurashiki, a town in western Japan known for its mild climate and sparse rainfall.

But a major typhoon in August flooded her home with sea water. Then Tokage brought its havoc down the mountainside Wednesday night, leaving a pool of muddy water covering her floors.

"This is the first time this has happened to me since I got married 30 years ago," Ueno said. "I am exhausted."

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