TOKYO, Oct. 16 (Xinhua) -- Japan was lashed by a powerful typhoon Wednesday which claimed the lives of at least 17 people and left many more unaccounted for in its wake, with gales and torrential rain wreaking havoc along the eastern seaboard and sparking emergency procedures at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Typhoon Wipha battered Izu Oshima Island, 100 km south of Tokyo, leaving 16 people dead and cars and houses buried in lethal mudslides. More than 40 people are still accounted for according to local authorities, as recovery and rescue operations continue into the night.
Local authorities said they fear the death toll may rise on the tiny island, as a number of houses collapsed in the typhoon, potentially leaving more bodies buried in the rubble and debris, they said.
Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose asked for Japan's Ground Self- Defense Forces to assist in search and rescue operations on the island, while Tokyo's fast-response rescue units were also dispatched by both Metropolitan Police and fire departments in Tokyo.
The National Police Agency (NPA) said that more than 80 people sustained injuries across 18 prefectures largely situated along the eastern coast, although strong gusts and heavy rain caused damage in central Japan too, the agency said.
They added that 14,000 households in Chiba Prefecture were ordered to be evacuated and evacuation warnings were issued in three more prefectures for around 8,000 households.
The 26th typhoon of the season caused transportation systems to be severely delayed or shut down across the nation, with airlines canceling more than 530 domestic flights scheduled for Wednesday.
Fears were rife that the typhoon, which was finally downgraded to a tropical storm at 3 p.m. but moving at a pace of 95 km per hour, with winds registering up to 126 km per hour at the cyclone' s center, would further hamper efforts at the crippled Fukushima nuclear Daiichi facility to contain massive amounts of radioactive water already accumulated at the plant.
The plant is grappling to contain 400 tons of toxic water accumulating on a daily basis and a series of radioactive leaks at the complex has seen its embattled operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) come under fire from the government and Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) for its slapdash approach to containing the radioactive water and a number of gaffes by its staff that have led to toxic water both leaking into the adjacent Pacific Ocean and personnel being exposed to radiation.
In anticipation of huge volumes of rainwater being dumped on the leaking facility, TEPCO opted to release the buildup of water that had accumulated inside its barriers, which surround the tanks storing highly radioactive water, into the sea Wednesday.
The utility said that water was released into the sea from nine separate locations in the Daiichi complex that was ravaged by an earthquake-triggered tsunami in March 2011, leading to multiple meltdowns and hydrogen explosions in the worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
TEPCO said the water released into the ocean was checked for radioactive materials including cesium and strontium-90 and the levels of radioactivity were within the NRA's standards for toxic water being released into the sea.
The utility did note, however, that levels of tritium in the water, which take far longer to measure, were "probably" within the safety limits.
TEPCO, in an emergency move, also transferred highly radioactive water that had pooled at two other locations at the plant to underground storage pools.
The NRA, who were notified of TEPCO's decision to dump and move toxic water on Wednesday morning urged the utility to safeguard against further possible leaks from sources such as tanks and drainage ditches that could further contribute to the existing 200 tons of radioactive water that is leaking into the ocean from the plant on a daily basis.