Downgraded typhoon heading toward Fukushima plant

TOKYO, Japan – Tropical storm Neoguri churned toward the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant on Japan's east coast on Friday after leaving several people dead and causing havoc in other parts of the country.

The storm was downgraded from a typhoon after sweeping past Tokyo earlier Friday, where it failed to disrupt the morning rush-hour, but was still packing winds of up to 83 kilometers an hour (50 miles) and bringing heavy rain.

Workers at Fukushima are already locked in a daily struggle to contain huge amounts of contaminated water and have been scrambling to protect the plant from the bands of rainfall being brought by Neoguri.

The operators of the plant, which was knocked out by a quake-triggered tsunami in 2011, have been trying to prevent groundwater tainted by the coolant used to maintain low temperatures at the destroyed reactors from leaking into the sea.

Japan's weather agency issued strong wind and rain warnings for the Fukushima region but a spokesman for the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power said the situation was stable.

"We are conducting today's operations as scheduled while monitoring any impact from the typhoon," he said.

Neoguri, which hit the mainland Thursday morning, reached Futtsu in Chiba prefecture, some 45 kilometres (30 miles) southeast of central Tokyo, shortly before 5:00 am (2000 GMT Thursday), the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

Television footage showed high waves slamming into breakwaters in Chiba, while emergency officials hurriedly built temporary barriers against further landslides.

But the impact of the typhoon on the capital was limited, with train and flight services running as normal during the morning rush hour, local media reported.

Neoguri was moving northeast over the Pacific coastline and was later expected to leave the Japanese archipelago, the weather agency said.

More than 680 houses in several prefectures were flooded or damaged due to the typhoon and heavy rain, according to the disaster management agency, with about 489,000 households urged to seek shelter.

Officials said there was still a risk of flooding and landslides from Neoguri, which earlier in the week prompted local authorities to urge half a million people to seek shelter in Okinawa.

More than 60 people were left injured by the storm, officials and reports said, while as many as 5 deaths have been directly or indirectly linked to the typhoon. –