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Tornado kills nine in Japan

/ Source: The Associated Press

Japan’s deadliest tornado on record tore through a remote northern town on Tuesday, killing nine people and injuring 25, police said.

The twister knocked out electricity to hundreds of homes and flipped over cars in the town of Saroma, on the northern island of Hokkaido.

Local television showed a wide swath of collapsed buildings, badly damaged cars and utility poles strewn across streets. Many of the victims were construction workers building a tunnel near the town, officials said.

According to the Central Meteorological Agency, the worst tornado previously recorded in Japan was two months ago, when three people were killed on the southern island of Kyushu.

Tornadoes are relatively rare in Japan, and the agency only has records of tornado-related deaths going back to 1961. The agency said it was studying data to determine the strength and cause of the twister.

National broadcaster NHK quoted a local woman, Keiko Takeda, as saying the skies suddenly darkened over the town and winds were swirling when she opened her window.

“It was very strong, but it was over very quickly,” she said.

The twister blacked out some 600 homes and disturbed phone communications, police and town officials said. Some 350 police officers were being mobilized in the relief effort.

Fire department official Nobuaki Ueda had no details on the severity of the injuries to the 25 people, although he said 10 were able to go the hospital on their own, while the other 15 were taken in ambulances.

But Yukio Yoshida, a police spokesman of the Hokkaido prefectural (state) police, said one woman was later listed as unconscious at a hospital. Fifty-two people — 45 construction workers and seven residents from damaged homes nearby — were taking shelter at a town gymnasium Tuesday night, said Hokkaido prefectural government official Hirofumi Matsumura.

Matsumura said 40 homes and nonresident structures were either totally or partially destroyed in the twister.

Hokkaido is the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands. Saroma, which has a population of 6,244, is about 620 miles northeast of Tokyo.