Travel Chaos in Japan On Strongest Storm Since 1959

Airlines canceled hundreds of flights, some train services were halted and thousands of workers went home early as Japan’s weather agency forecast the strongest winds in more than 50 years will hit Tokyo today.

The storm dumped up to 6 centimeters (2.4 inches) of rain an hour in central Japan as it crossed from the southwest, with winds gusting up to 140 kilometers (87 miles) an hour. An 82- year-old woman died in Ishikawa, north of Tokyo, after being knocked over by the wind and hitting her head.

As many as 11,500 households have lost power because of the storm in Toyama and Ishikawa prefectures, Hokuriku Electric Power Co. (9505) said in a statement. At least 60 people have been injured in 17 prefectures, NHK reported, showing a golf driving range destroyed in Hiroshima in western Japan.

Sustained winds in Tokyo may reach 90 kph during its evening peak, Takeo Tanaka, head of the weather advisory office at the Japan Meteorological Agency, said in a telephone interview. That would make it the strongest storm to hit the capital since 1959, when Tokyo was buffeted by winds of 97 kph, data from the weather agency show.

“People should try to avoid going out,” Tanaka said. “It’s very unusual for Tokyo to have such strong winds when there’s not a typhoon,” he said, referring to the tropical storms that regularly strike Japan between May and October.

All Nippon Airways Co. (9202) and Japan Airlines Co. (9201), the nation’s two largest airlines, canceled 550 flights, stranding more than 68,000 passengers. All Nippon scrapped 320 flights, affecting about 37,700 people, the airline said in a faxed statement, while Japan Air (9201) canceled 230 domestic flights that had 30,800 passengers. Both airlines warned that international services may also be disrupted.

East Japan Railway Co. (9020), the largest railway operator in the Tokyo region, canceled some trains due to strong winds, according to its website. Express services on the Chuo line, linking western suburbs with the city center, were scrapped, while regular services were running at 70 percent frequency, the operator said. Some expressways were also closed in the capital.

Bullet train services linking Tokyo and Osaka were also disrupted, Central Japan Railway Co. (9022) said on its website.

The weather agency issued warnings for waves as high as 10 meters (33 feet) on the northwest coast of Honshu and up to 8 meters along the Pacific coast hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami last year. After passing Tokyo, the storm is forecast to dump heavy rain on the disaster-hit Tohoku region.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government (MOTZ) issued an advisory for companies to send employees home where possible to avoid transport disruption, the first time such a warning has been issued for a storm that isn’t a typhoon, a spokesman said.

Sony Corp. (6758) advised 16,000 employees in Tokyo to leave work early to avoid the storm, spokesman George Boyd said in an e- mail. Nissan Motor Co. (7201) ordered employees at its headquarters in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, and other facilities in Kanagawa prefecture (KANZ) to leave work at 2 p.m. today, spokesman Toshitake Inoshita said by phone.

JVC Kenwood Corp. (6632), also based in Kanagawa, sent workers home, the company said in a statement on its website. Fujitsu Ltd. (6702) said it gave 25,000 employees the option to leave work early, the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Today’s storm, caused by a low pressure front that formed over the Sea of Japan, differs from the typhoons or tropical storms which form over warm water in the Pacific and develop into a cyclone with surface wind circulation, according to the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Typhoon Talas killed 67 people in September, the nation’s deadliest storm in seven years.

“Usually the low pressure systems develops east of Japan but this is unusual because the low pressure system has developed in the Sea of Japan,” Masashi Kunitsugu, at the weather agency’s typhoon center, said in an interview. “It usually develops after passing the islands of Japan.”

The storm dumped heavy rain overnight on Japan’s southwest island of Kyushu before moving northeast toward Osaka and Tokyo.

Cosmo Oil Co. (5007) halted oil barge berthing at its refineries at Chiba and Yokkaichi, west of Tokyo, Katsuhisa Maeda, a company spokesman, said by phone earlier today. The refiner may also stop loading and unloading barges at processing plants at Sakai, south of Osaka, and Sakaide on the island of Shikoku.

JX Nippon Oil and Energy Corp., Japan’s largest refiner, stopped barge berthing at its Marifu refinery in western Japan, as well as its Negishi refinery in Yokohama, according to a company official who declined to be identified citing the company’s internal policy.

Idemitsu Kosan Co. (5019) stopped berthings at its Chiba, Aichi and Tokuyama refineries, spokesman Kei Uchikawa said.

West Japan Railway Co. (9021) canceled bullet train services on the Sanyo Shinkansen line between Osaka and Hakata station in Kyushu, the company said on its website.