November 17, 2018
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Airport flooded, millions without electricity in wake of Typhoon Jebi

Hiroko Harima | AP
Hiroko Harima | AP
Kansai International Airport is partially flooded by Typhoon Jebi in Osaka, western Japan, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. The powerful typhoon slammed into western Japan on Tuesday, inundating the region's main international airport and blowing a tanker into a bridge, disrupting land and air travel and leaving thousands stranded.

Regions around Osaka, Japan’s second biggest population center, struggled to recover from damage left by Typhoon Jebi, which left 10 people dead, hundreds of thousands of buildings without power and the area’s main airport closed.

Kansai International Airport, a key transport and cargo hub that lies on an artificial island in Osaka Bay almost directly in the typhoon’s path, remained shut Wednesday. Jebi, the strongest tropical cyclone to come ashore in 25 years, flooded its runways, and a tanker smashed into the road and rail bridge connecting the airport to the mainland.

The airport could remain closed for a week if the damage is severe, Kyodo News reported, citing unidentified people. An airport spokesman was unable to confirm the report to Bloomberg News, saying it would take more time before it could make an announcement.

About 5,000 people were stranded at the airport overnight, with passengers being moved in groups off the island by boat and bus on Wednesday.

At least 10 people in the Kansai region were killed and about 300 injured, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in a series of tweets, hailed the relief operations and said the government will “come together to make every effort to urgently deal with the disaster and restore infrastructure.”

Kansai International Airport opened in 1994 and sits on reclaimed land in Osaka Bay. It is the third-biggest airport in the country by passenger numbers after Tokyo’s Haneda and Narita.

The airport is a key cargo hub, particularly for semiconductor parts, its biggest export by category. Parts suppliers in the region said they were examining their options.

“If Kansai airport were to remain closed for a week or two, that would have an impact on our exports, so we’d have to consider using other airports,” said Hiroshi Shimizu, a spokesman for Mitsubishi Materials Corp., which exports materials for silicon wafers from Kansai.

Toshiba Memory Corp., Screen Holdings Co. and Rohm Co. also said they would consider alternative export routes. Murata Manufacturing Co., which supplies components for Apple’s iPhone, said it planned to use alternatives as the airport is its main export base.

The airport is operated by a venture between Vinci Airports and Orix Corp. Despite challenges after its opening, including the need for a government cash injection to tackle greater sinking into the ocean than expected, in recent years it has been a beneficiary of Japan’s tourist boom. Passenger numbers have doubled since 2010.

Typhoon Jebi “will clearly put a dent” in inbound arrival numbers, said Andrew Jackson, head of Japanese equities at Soochow CSSD Capital Markets in Singapore. Japan recorded its slowest growth in tourist numbers in five years in the most recent set of data, as other disasters in western Japan — an earthquake and historic flooding — weighed on travel demand. Shares in Fancl Corp., Kose Corp. and other cosmetics makers fell in Tokyo trading Wednesday.

More than 400,000 buildings remained without power in Kansai Electric Power Co.’s service area as of 3 p.m, with as many as 2.1 million buildings having lost power at the height of the storm. The utility dispatched 8,000 workers overnight to bring power back to households and businesses.

Many local train lines were shut or running reduced services today. Shares in Nankai Electric Railway Co., which operates a train line serving the airport as well as regional lines, fell 4.4 percent, the most in more than two years. In a statement, the railway said there was no timeframe for restarting the airport line.

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