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Airport, businesses closed as typhoon hits Kansai area

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The storm sent a tanker crashing into the bridge connecting Kansai airport with the mainland. Some 3,000 tourists were stranded at the airport, which also suffered flooding.

Tokyo

TYPHOON Jebi swept through western Japan on Tuesday as the strongest tropical cyclone to come ashore in 25 years, causing widespread power outages and flooding the region's main airport. At least six people were reported killed and 90 others were injured.

The storm paralysed the country's second-largest population centre around Osaka, with companies forced to temporarily close their plants, and power cut to more than 800,000 homes and offices.

Jebi, or "swallow" in Korean is the 21st typhoon of the season. It swept the smallest main island of Shikoku before making landfall in Kobe, carrying strong winds of up to 162 kilometres per hour, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency(JMA).

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That made it a "very strong" typhoon, the second-highest on the JMA's scale. It was the first time for a typhoon to make landfall at that strength since 1993. The storm lost strength as it moved overland towards the Sea of Japan, where it is forecast to continue weakening rapidly.

Amid strong winds and storm surges, Kansai International Airport, built on an artificial island almost directly in the cyclone's path, suffered flooding to its runway and terminal building. The strong winds and high tides sent a 2,591-tonne tanker crashing into a bridge connecting the airport to the mainland. The bridge was damaged and closed, but the tanker was empty and none of its crew was injured, the coast guard said.

A spokeswoman for the airport told Bloomberg News that it doesn't know when it can resume operations. Singapore Airlines (SIA) has cancelled four flights to Osaka following the closure of Kansai International Airport.

SIA said that flight SQ622 which was due to depart Changi Airport at 1.55pm on Tuesday was cancelled. Flight SQ618, scheduled to leave at 1.25am on Wednesday, had also been cancelled.The return services from Osaka - SQ623 and SQ619 - have also been axed. Some 3,000 tourists were stranded at the airport.

About 860,000 buildings in the Kansai, Shikoku and Chubu regions were without power as at 5 pm, according to regional utilities, and more than 680,000 people had been issued evacuation orders or advisories, Asahi reported.

All local train lines run by West Japan Railway Co in the area's three main cities - Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto - remained halted as of 5 pm, as well as all Shinkansen high-speed trains linking Tokyo to Hiroshima. ANA Holdings Inc and Japan Airlines Co cancelled a total of 585 domestic and 13 international flights.

Local production was also hit, with Toyota Motor Corp halting operations at most of its group plants, and Honda Motor Co halting its Suzuka plant in Mie prefecture. Kyocera Corp, Murata Manufacturing Co, Panasonic Corp and Shiseido Co were among other manufacturers shutting some of their facilities.

Jebi is the fourth typhoon to make landfall in Japan this season. Recent years have seen an increase in the number of typhoons directly hitting the country, with at least four making landfall every year since 2014.

Television footage showed waves pounding the coastline, sheet metal tumbling across a parking lot, cars turned on their sides, dozens of used cars on fire at an exhibition area, and a big Ferris wheel spinning around in the strong wind.

The capital, Tokyo, escaped the centre of the storm but was set for heavy rains and high winds.

Jebi's course brought it close to parts of western Japan hit by rains and flooding that killed more than 200 people in July but most of the damage this time appeared to be from the wind.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was forced to cancel a planned trip to Fukuoka in the southern island of Kyushu to deal with the disaster response. He urged people to evacuate early and ordered his government to take all necessary measures to protect residents.

It is too early yet to predict the extent of the damage from the storm and the impact on the economy.

Mr Abe had earlier vowed to proceed with next year's scheduled sales tax hike "by all means" and take steps to ease an expected hit to consumption from the higher levy, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Mr Abe said his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won last year's lower house election with a pledge to use proceeds from the sales tax increase to make Japan's social welfare system more sustainable.

"We must accomplish this by all means," Mr Abe said in an interview with the economic daily, referring to his plan to raise the tax to 10 per cent from 8 per cent in October next year.

Mr Abe twice postponed the tax hike after an increase to 8 per cent from 5 per cent in 2014 tipped Japan into recession.

Some analysts warn next year's scheduled tax hike could hurt already fragile private consumption, at a time that a construction boom leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games may peter out.

Mr Abe said the impact of the tax hike to 10 per cent will be smaller than that of the increase to 8 per cent. He also said the government will take measures to moderate an expected downturn in consumption after the hike. WP, REUTERS