Typhoon Neoguri lashed Japan’s southern Ryukyu Islands yesterday, forcing more than 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 216kph with torrential downpours, forcing the cancelation of hundreds of flights as authorities said at least one person had died and several were injured by the raging storm.
In Okinawa’s 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 coast guard 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 — the weather agency earlier warned that waves could reach as high as 14m.
Separately, police on Okinawa said at least four people were injured, including an 83-year-old woman, with public broadcaster NHK putting the number injured at 19.
Schools across the sprawling archipelago were also closed, while nearly 70,000 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, home to about 1.2 million people, as well as the outlying Miyako Islands. The alert for the Miyako region was downgraded yesterday 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 the Ryukyus to take shelter in their homes or evacuate to community centers and town halls.
“We have urged residents to evacuate when they see any danger,” a local municipal official said by telephone.
More than 700 people have taken refuge in shelters, Jiji Press agency reported, as the powerful storm barrels toward the Japanese mainland.
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 last year, but Japan has a strong track record of coming through major storms comparatively unscathed in the past few decades compared with its poorer neighbors.
Nonetheless, Japanese officials were 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 a press conference on Monday. “We are in an abnormal situation where serious danger is imminent.”