Powerful typhoon Neoguri lashed Japan’s southern Okinawa islands Tuesday, forcing over half a million people to seek shelter, as the region’s worst storm in years damaged buildings, downed trees and brought air and sea traffic to a halt.
The typhoon packed gusts of up to 252 kilometres (156 miles) per hour with torrential downpours, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights as authorities said at least one person was missing and several were injured by the raging storm.
In the capital Naha, traffic lights went off and television footage showed trees split by the force of the storm, signboards flying around and a restaurant destroyed, with the shattered building blocking a street.
Okinawa police said at least three people were injured, including a 83-year-old woman, with public broadcaster NHK putting the number of injured at eight.
Separately, the coastguard said a 62-year-old man was missing after being knocked off his boat near Japan’s mainland, with the weather agency earlier warning that waves could reach as high as 14 metres (45 feet).
Schools across the sprawling archipelago were also closed while nearly 70,000 Okinawan households had no power, NHK said.Late Monday, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued its highest typhoon alert for Okinawa’s main island, home to around 1.2 million people, as well as the outlying Miyako islands.Authorities warned there was a risk to life, as well as major property damage from the typhoon and subsequent flooding and landslides.
Neoguri comes less than a year after typhoon Haiyan, packing the strongest winds ever recorded on land, killed or left missing more than 7,300 people as it tore across the central Philippines in November.
Japan, a wealthy nation with strict building codes, has a strong track record of coming through major storms comparatively unscathed in the last few decades compared to its poorer neighbours.
Nonetheless Japanese officials are urging people to take the threat posed by Neoguri seriously.
“There are fears about violent winds, high waves and tides and torrential rain that we have never experienced before,” Satoshi Ebihara, the Japanese weather agency’s chief forecaster, told an evening news conference Monday.
“We are in an abnormal situation where serious danger is imminent,” he said.Deadly projectiles US astronaut Reid Wiseman posted two dramatic views of the swirling typhoon from the International Space Station with the images from his Twitter account re-tweeted more than 5,000 times.The Kadena Air Force Base, the biggest US Air Force base in the Pacific, located on Okinawa’s main island, evacuated some of its aircraft as officers stressed that Neoguri may be deadly.Authorities have now urged about 590,000 people across Okinawa to take shelter in their homes or evacuate to facilities such as community centres and town halls.”We have urged residents to evacuate when they see any danger,” a municipal official of Nanjo told AFP by telephone.
The typhoon, which has been downgraded from super typhoon status, was about 220 kilometres (136 miles) west of Okinawa’s main island as of noon (0300 GMT), according to the weather agency.
The storm was moving north at about 50 kilometres (31 miles) per hour, it said.
The storm could reach the southern main island of Kyushu late Wednesday or early Thursday, with the weather agency warning that the amount of rainfall by Thursday could reach as much as 400 millimetres (16 inches), posing a serious risk of landslides and flooding.
Kyushu — next to the main island of Honshu, where major cities including Tokyo and Osaka are located — was already seeing heavy rain.US officials at the US air base, home to thousands of American service people and their families, warned residents to take serious precautions.”I can’t stress enough how dangerous this typhoon may be when it hits Okinawa,” Commander James Hecker of the 18th Wing stationed in Kadena said in a statement posted earlier online.
“This is the most powerful typhoon forecast to hit the island in 15 years.”So be prepared! Tie down your outdoor items and work with your neighbours to help them.”He added: “During the typhoon, do not go outside… anything not tied down, even small items, could become deadly projectiles.”