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Chantal Slow Dry Front*

August 21, 2001

Powerful Storm Slams Western Japan,

Killing Two and Delaying Transportation

Associated Press

TOKYO -- A storm lashed western Japan with fierce gusts and heavy rains on Tuesday, grounding flights, interrupting train services and forcing the closure of a Universal Studios theme park. Two people were killed.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Chantal slowed to a crawl across Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula on Tuesday after frightening tourists, forcing evacuations and downing trees -- but causing no known deaths.

Japan's storm, which was downgraded from typhoon status after losing power, was centered about 19 miles northwest of the town of Shionosaki in western Japan Tuesday evening, and was heading northeast at 12 miles per hour, the Meteorological Agency said.

It was expected to slam into Tokyo by Wednesday morning.

Dubbed Pabuk, which means "big freshwater fish" in Lao, the storm was packing winds of up to 67 miles per hour, weakening from earlier winds of up to 78 mph. Typhoons are defined as having minimum surface winds of at least 74 mph.

Pabuk forced the cancellation of about 180 domestic flights in Japan, national broadcaster NHK said. Bullet train services were delayed and several other train services were suspended in western Japan, said Japan Railways West.

In the western Japanese metropolis of Osaka, the Universal Studios theme park was forced to close for the day and the final of Japan's wildly popular high school baseball tournament was postponed until Wednesday.

In the southwestern Mie state, a 28-year-old employee of Kinki Nippon Railway Co. died when he touched an overhead train cable while trying to clear branches that had fallen onto it, police said.

Mie has been hard hit by the storm, with 221 people forced to leave their homes, officials said. In the Wakayama state, also in Japan's southwest, 3,900 people were ordered to leave their homes when heavy rains raised fears that a dam would overflow.

In the central state of Aichi, a 66-year-old pottery factory worker fell to his death from the roof of the building when he tried to clear clogged rain gutters.

Storm Hits Mexico, Causing Little Initial Damage

Meanwhile, in Mexico, Tropical Storm Chantal barely missed hurricane strength before touching land near Chetumal Monday night. It narrowly missed the popular Caribbean tourist resorts ranging from Cancun to Tulum along the coast to the north.

Chantal was creeping west-northwest across the peninsula at six mph. Its winds had diminished to 60 mph and the storm was expected to continue weakening as it crossed land. Forecasters said it would likely get a second wind when it emerged once again in the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday.

The Mexican navy reported that the storm touched land on the Xcalak Peninsula just east of Chetumal after 9 p.m., churning up 13-foot waves. It then roared across this city of 100,000 near the Belize border. It downed power lines and scattered tree limbs in the streets, but caused far less damage than feared in the unpretentious capital of Quintana Roo state.

State radio and television repeatedly urged people to stay indoors, keep a two-day supply of clean water and flashlight batteries and to avoid getting drunk.

The leading edge of the storm carried little rain, but the U.S. National Hurricane Center said heavy rains, winds and a storm-swollen sea could follow.

At 8 a.m. EDT Tuesday, the storm was centered about 35 miles west-southwest of Chetumal.

Chetumal was almost a ghost town after dark as waterfront restaurants -- and most other businesses in town -- shuttered or boarded up windows against winds that reached speeds of 70 mph.

Police and troops evacuated hundreds of people from the Xcalak Peninsula and the Banco Chinchorro, a group of coral reefs east of the peninsula. More than 850 fled their homes in Chetumal, the Mexican government news agency Notimex reported.

One of the first to flee from a low-lying house to a primary school shelter was Chetumal native Julia Rodriguez, 75 years old, who recalled the way Hurricane Janet demolished much of the town in 1955. "There were no houses, there was nothing," she said. "There were hills of bodies in the streets."

Still, shelters here remained well below capacity this time.

A Chetumal technical school set up to house 500 people had just 112 refugees registered even after the storm hit and other shelters also appeared to be sparsely populated even though workers could be seen hauling water and food into them.

State officials closed all schools Monday and Tuesday and said some in the south of the state might be closed longer. Boats were ordered to port and smaller were vessels taken out of the water.

Offshore activities were restricted in Cancun, but the brunt of the storm passed south, producing gray skies, some rain and wind, but little danger for thousands of tourists.

As a precaution, Carnival Cruise Lines diverted all of its Caribbean tours to the port of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico, Notimex reported.

Michael Sheehan, spokesman for Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said his company had diverted only one cruise ship, which left Saturday bound for Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Cozumel. It was rerouted to the eastern Caribbean, Mr. Sheehan said.

Copyright © 2001 Associated Press

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