Japanese heatwave kills 57 in a week with 18,000 taken to hospital

(SCMP) – Thousands of Japanese have been taken to hospital, and 57 have died, as an extreme heatwave sweeps the archipelago nation.

In total, 18,347 people were referred to hospital last week because of heat-related medical issues – more than triple the previous week’s 5,664. The tally is the second-highest since records began in 2008, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

Senior citizens, aged 65 or older, accounted for more than half of the total, with 729 exhibiting severe symptoms that will require more than three weeks of treatment, health officials said.

On Tuesday morning, a power cut suspended multiple train services, with nine passengers taken to hospital after becoming unwell as the air-conditioning system on their train failed.

The 8:30am power outage left eight trains stranded between stations on the line run by Keisei Electric Railway, as well as the Toei Asakusa Line and the Hokuso Line. Temperatures in central Tokyo had already soared to 32.5 C by 9am.

Those taken to hospital complained of symptoms ranging from numb hands to dizziness, but all remained conscious, the Tokyo Fire Department said.

According to Keikyu Corporation, which owns the train, its backup power source could not be used to run the air-conditioning system, with passengers only able to open windows and position themselves near fans.

Around 900 passengers exited the train from the first carriage onto the tracks, and were guided to Yahiro Station, located around 50 metres away, on foot.

A number of trains on other main lines were also temporarily suspended and all passengers had alighted from the stranded trains in around two hours, the operator said.

“An announcement told us to open the windows, and passengers worked together to do so. After we exited onto the tracks, I felt scared when I saw people being taken away on stretchers,” said a 54-year-old woman who had been on one of the suspended trains.

At Narita Airport railway station, Keikyu’s staff advised people heading to Tokyo to use Japan Railways lines or buses instead.