Japan on highest alert as typhoon Neoguri closes in
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Japanese authorities cancelled flights and urged thousands to evacuate on Tuesday as weather forecasters warned the country to brace for one of the worst storms in years.
Japan prepared Tuesday as typhoon Neoguri barrelled towards the southern Okinawa island chain, with the national weather agency issuing its highest alert and urging nearly half-a-million people to take shelter.
The top-level warning means a threat to life, as well as the risk of storm surges, landslides and massive damage from the typhoon packing gusts of up to 250 kilometres (155 miles) per hour.
The Japan Meteorological Agency late Monday issued the alert for Okinawa's main island, home to around 1.2 million people, as well as the outlying Miyako islands.
Waves could reach as high as 14 metres (45 feet), a weather agency official said, as schools across the sprawling archipelago south of Japan's main islands were closed while air and sea traffic services ground to a halt.
More than 100,000 people in the tropical island chain, some 1,600 km (1,000 miles) southwest of Tokyo, were urged to evacuate. About 6,500 Okinawan households had no power early Tuesday.
The storm 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.
"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, advising Okinawans to stay in secure buildings or seek out a safer location if they fear their homes could not withstand the powerful storm.
Around two to four typhoons make landfall in Japan each year but they are unusual in July.
Storm approaching mainland Japan
Authorities have now urged about 480,000 people across Okinawa to take shelter in their homes or evacuate to facilities such as community centres and town halls.
"The rain is becoming heavier as the typhoon approaches," a municipal official of Nanjo told AFP by telephone.
"We have urged residents to evacuate when they see any danger."
The storm has been moving north at about 20 kilometres per hour and could reach the southern main island of Kyushu on Wednesday.
There are no nuclear plants on Okinawa but there are two on Kyushu and another on Shikoku island, which borders Kyushu and could also be affected.
All are shut down due to national policy. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, wrecked by the March 2011 tsunami and still struggling to contain leaks of radioactive water, is on the other side of the country, out of the path of the storm.
US Air Force evacuation
The Kadena Air Force Base, the biggest US Air Force base in the Pacific, located on Okinawa's main island, has evacuated some of its aircraft as officers stressed that Neoguri may be deadly.
US officials at Kadena, home to thousands of American service people and their families, have 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 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."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)