September 21, 2011 / 10:26 AM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 2-Typhoon pounds Japan and crippled nuclear plant

(Adds details)

By Yoko Kubota

TOKYO, Sept 21 (Reuters) - A powerful typhoon struck Japan on Wednesday, killing six people, disrupting public transportation and pummeling Tokyo and northeastern Japan including the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant with heavy rain, officials and media said.

Typhoon Roke, the second big storm to hit Japan this month, was packing winds of up to 180 km per hour (110 miles per hour) at its centre and dumped more than 30 cm (12 inches) of rain in parts of northeastern Japan over the past 24 hours, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.3 struck eastern and northeastern Japan at about 10:30 p.m. (1300 GMT) as the storm passed through the area that was damaged by a massive quake and tsunami in March, the Meteorological Agency said.

No tsunami alert was issued and no abnormalities were reported at the Fukushima nuclear power plant following the quake, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

Roke made landfall on Wednesday afternoon near Hamamatsu, 200 km (125 miles) west of Tokyo, then cut a path through the Tokyo area and was in Fukushima prefecture at 9:00 p.m. (1200 GMT) moving in the northeast direction, the Meteorological Agency said.

Television showed waves crashing over breakwaters on the Pacific coast, trees knocked down on streets of Tokyo and train stations packed with stranded commuters.

Tokyo Electric Power Co , the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant 240 km northeast of Tokyo, said the typhoon had so far caused no damage to the plant.

“The biggest element of concern is the rise of (radioactive) water levels in turbine buildings,” Junichi Matsumoto, a Tokyo Electric official, told a news conference.

The site still holds huge amounts of water used to cool reactors where fuel meltdowns took place after cooling systems were knocked out by the March disaster, raising concerns that heavy rain could cause radioactive water to overflow into the sea and groundwater.

“We expect to be able to withstand (an overflow) even if water levels rise suddenly,” Matsumoto said.

The storm poured 20 cm of rain on Wednesday in an area near the plant. Water levels are rising in turbine buildings and Tokyo Electric is continuing to monitor the situation, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

About 200,000 people were ordered or advised to evacuate their homes, public broadcaster NHK reported. Many levees and seawalls destroyed by the March disaster have yet to be fixed.

Roke also halted commuter trains in and around Tokyo, stranding thousands of passengers as they tried to go home early before the storm hit the capital.

More than 610 flights had been cancelled, NHK reported, while Central Japan Railway said it had suspended some bullet train services.

Toyota said it planned to close 11 factories in central Japan early on Wednesday and cancel evening shifts. Nissan halted production at two plants at 2 p.m. (0500 GMT) and Mitsubishi Heavy closed six plants.

Earlier this month, Typhoon Talas hit western Japan and left about 100 people dead or missing. An average of two to four typhoons make landfall each year in Japan. (Reporting by Yoko Kubota, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Linda Sieg, Tim Kelly and Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Elizabeth Piper)

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