TOKYO: Typhoon Neoguri lashed Japan’s southern Okinawa islands yesterday, reportedly leaving two dead and forcing hundreds 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 216 kilometres per hour with torrential downpours, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights.
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.
The coastguard and local police said a 62-year-old man was found dead after he was knocked off his boat in rough waters near Japan’s mainland, while public broadcaster NHK said an 81-year-old fisherman died in southwestern Kumamoto prefecture.
Separately, Okinawa police said at least four people were injured, with NHK putting the number of injured at 25.
Schools across the sprawling archipelago were also closed while nearly 70,000 Okinawan households had no power, NHK said.
“We have no water or electricity, but the gas is still on,” said Takuro Ogawa, who lives in Chatan, a town in central Okinawa.
Late on 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. The alerts for the Miyako region were downgraded last evening.
Authorities had warned there was a risk to life, as well as major property damage from the typhoon and subsequent flooding and landslides.
Officials called on 590,000 people across Okinawa to take shelter in their homes or evacuate to community centres and town halls. More than 700 people have taken refuge in shelters, Jiji Press agency reported, as the powerful storm barrels toward the Japanese mainland.
The World Meteorological Organisation said Neoguri was “expected to remain at strong intensity for the next three days at least,” spokeswoman Clare Nullis told a UN briefing in Geneva.
The Kadena Air Force Base, the biggest US Air Force base in the Pacific, which is located on Okinawa’s main island, evacuated some of its aircraft as the storm approached.
The typhoon, which has been downgraded from super typhoon status, was in the East China Sea as of 1150 GMT. It was moving north at about 30 kilometres per hour, the weather agency said.
The storm could reach the southern main island of Kyushu late today or early tomorrow, with the weather agency warning that the amount of rainfall by tomorrow could reach as much as 400 millimetres, 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 experiencing heavy rain.
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.