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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 September, 2004, 13:28 GMT 14:28 UK
Japan battered by Typhoon Meari
People walk in a flooded road following a heavy rain in Tsu, Mie
The storm caused widespread flooding
At least 18 people have been killed and several are reported missing after a powerful tropical storm struck south-western Japan.

Tens of thousands of others were forced to flee their homes as Typhoon Meari's gusts of up to 67 mph (108km/h) damaged houses and caused widespread flooding.

The town of Miyagawa in the prefecture of Mie was particularly badly hit as landslides destroyed several homes.

The record eighth typhoon this year left thousands of homes without power.

More than 350 flights were cancelled and train and ferry services in the affected area were suspended, stranding thousands of people, local media reported.

The storm weakened on Thursday morning as it was moving north-east at 37mph (60km/h) near the city of Ichinoseki, north of the capital, Tokyo, Japan's Meteorological Agency said.

It said Meari, which means "echo" in Korean, was expected to be downgraded around midday on Thursday.

Buried in mud

The storm made landfall on the southernmost main island of Kyushu early on Wednesday, before progressing northeast over large swaths of the country.

"This is the heaviest rain I've ever had in my life. I can't sleep because I am worried about my house," the Mainichi newspaper quoted a resident in Miyagawa as saying.

Officials said at least six people were missing in the town, where mud and rock loosened by rain buried several homes.

Hundreds of rescuers - including army units - suspended their search for the six because of the risk of further landslide and were due to resume the operation on Thursday, officials said.

About 100 people were rescued on Wednesday from a home for the elderly in Mie where they were stranded by waist-high floodwaters. The bodies of two men were also found in a swollen river.

Several deaths were also reported in the south-western prefecture of Ehime.

'Typhoon year'

Japan has been battered by a record eight typhoons this year, breaking the past record of six in 1990.

More than 20 people were killed and some 700 others were injured as the deadly Typhoon Songda swept up across Japan.

In August, Typhoon Megi killed at least 13 people in Japan and South Korea.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
The clean-up begins after the typhoon



SEE ALSO:
Japan lashed by Typhoon Songda
08 Sep 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Preparing for 'the Big One'
06 Oct 03  |  Asia-Pacific


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