By Elaine Lies
TOKYO, Oct 16 (Reuters) - A typhoon killed 17 people inJapan on Wednesday, most on an offshore island, but largelyspared the capital and caused no new disaster as it brushed bythe wrecked Fukushima nuclear power station, the plant'soperator said.
More than 50 people were missing after the "once in adecade" Typhoon Wipha roared up Japan's east coast. About 20,000 people were told to leave their homes because of thedanger of flooding and hundreds of flights were cancelled.
Sixteen people were killed on Izu Oshima island, about 120km (75 miles) south of Tokyo, as rivers burst their banks. Thestorm set off mudslides along a 2 km (1.2 mile) stretch ofmountains.
Television footage showed roads clogged with wreckage andhouses with gaping holes smashed into them.
"I heard a crackling sound and then the trees on thehillside all fell over," a woman on Izu Oshima told NHKtelevision.
The storm brought hurricane-force winds and drenching rainto the Tokyo metropolitan area of 30 million people at the peakof the morning rush hour.
A woman was swept away by a swollen river in western Tokyoand more than 50 people were missing, the government said,including two schoolboys engulfed by waves on a beach.
About 20 people were hurt by falls or being struck by flyingdebris.
The operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, Tokyo ElectricPower Corp, cancelled all offshore work and securedmachinery as the storm approached.
RAIN PUMPED OUT
The operator, known as Tepco, has been struggling to containradioactive leaks since a 2011 earthquake and tsunami causedextensive damage and triggered the world's worst nuclear crisissince Chernobyl in 1986.
A Tepco spokesman said Typhoon Wipha had caused no newproblems at the plant, which is on the coast 220 km (130 miles)north of Tokyo.
The storm dumped heavy rain and it had to be pumped out ofprotective containers at the base of about 1,000 tanks storingradioactive water, the by-product of a jerry-rigged coolingsystem designed to control wrecked reactors.
The rainwater was checked for radioactivity and releasedinto the sea, the company spokesman said.
Wipha was down-graded to a tropical depression by 0700 GMT.It was off the coast of northeastern Japan and moving northeastat 95 kph (59 mph), according to the Japan MeteorologicalAgency.
At its height, it had sustained winds at its centre of 126kph (78 mph) and gusts of up to 180 kph (112 mph).
More than 500 flights at Tokyo's Haneda and Narita airportswere cancelled, and thousands of schools closed. Bullet trainservices were halted but resumed by Wednesday afternoon.
Typhoon Wipha was the strongest storm to hit the regionsince October 2004. That cyclone triggered floods and landslidesthat killed almost 100 people, forced thousands from their homesand caused billions of dollars in damage.
- Natural Phenomena
- Disasters & Accidents
- Izu Oshima