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Natural disasters

Typhoon delays bullet train for weeks while Toyota springs back

Better disaster planning staves off supply chain disruption after storm kills 74

Mudcaked bullet trains sit idled at an East Japan Railway train yard that experienced heavy flooding from Typhoon Hagibis. (Photo by Hirofumi Yamamoto)

TOKYO -- As a fuller picture of the damage from Typhoon Hagibis emerges, Japan faces weeks of delays in restoring some train service, but supply chains weathered the storm relatively well, attesting to the rise of disaster planning.

East Japan Railway said Tuesday that full service on the Hokuriku shinkansen bullet train line connecting Tokyo with Kanazawa in central Japan will not resume for at least a week or two after weekend flooding that killed at least 74 people.

The disruption has resulted in canceled business trips and vacations along affected parts of the line, hitting local hotels.

But many companies that took precautions, including preemptive factory closures, managed to minimize the toll from the typhoon, which brought torrential rains that overran river banks and burst levees.

Toyota Motor decided Friday to shut three plants Saturday, when the storm slammed into eastern Japan. The factories resumed normal operations Monday.

Toyota procures 75% of a vehicle's 30,000 parts from external sources, so a break in the supply chain would deliver a heavy blow.

Learning from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Toyota developed a risk management database called Reinforce Supply Chain Under Emergency, or Rescue.

Seven-Eleven Japan, under Seven & i Holdings, let individual convenience stores make decisions on operations during the storm. Roughly 4,000 shut their doors -- four times initial expectations.

At the same time, the strength of Hagibis exposed flaws in disaster preparedness.

Central Industrial Park in Koriyama, Japan remained submerged in floodwater on Oct. 14 after Typhoon Hagibis made landfall during the weekend. (Nikkei photo)

Apple supplier Hirose Electric developed its own business continuity plan a decade ago, including floodwall construction. But flooding at a factory in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture -- one of the areas hit hardest by the typhoon -- was too great for the barriers to hold back, a representative said.

Some factories, including a Hitachi affiliate in Fukushima, still had no prospect of resuming production as of Tuesday.

A key question is how well hazard maps for flood damage were put to use. East Japan Railway's waterlogged train yard in Nagano is located in an area known to be at risk of flooding.

Trains were partially submerged, and the rail line suffered signal damage.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday that the government will consider drafting a supplementary budget to fund recovery efforts. The additional spending will come on top of 500 billion yen ($4.6 billion) already set aside for disaster relief.

Local governments will receive extra tax allocations to restore and upgrade levees and other measures. The funds will also financially support businesses affected by the storm.

While 92% of BCPs anticipate earthquakes, only 31% anticipate floods not caused by a tsunami, the Cabinet Office said in a report published last year. Although corporations see the need to prepare for floods after torrential rains submerged western Japan last year, many have yet to act.

"Requests from companies regarding BCPs for wind and flood damage are about a tenth of those for earthquakes," said Takahiro Shinome, chief of business continuity management consulting at Sompo Risk Management. "Companies appear not to have fully anticipated the actual damage."

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