Powerful typhoon approaches Japan with violent winds, heavy rain

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Kagoshima (Japan) (AFP)

A powerful typhoon headed toward southern Japan Sunday, bringing violent winds and heavy rains with officials warning it could be strong enough to snap power poles and flip vehicles.

Typhoon Haishen, categorised as "large" and "extremely strong", was expected to move through the Amami region of small islands near Kyushu that separate the Pacific Ocean and the East China Sea in the afternoon.

At 8:00 am (2300 GMT Saturday), Haishen was about 150 kilometres (93 miles) southeast of Amami Oshima island, with gusts up to 252 km (157 miles) per hour.

The storm was forecast to head north and travel off the western coast of Kyushu -- one of Japan's main islands -- from the evening through early Monday before reaching South Korea, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

Once the storm comes near inhabited islands, its violent winds might become strong enough to snap power poles and flip vehicles, meteorologists have warned.

More than 200,000 residents of Kyushu were advised by early Sunday to seek safety at shelters, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

Rather than going to designated local school schools and community centres, some residents have chosen to seek safety at local hotels to try and reduce the risk of coronavirus infections at crowded public shelters, according to local media.

The storm has forced the cancellation of 528 flights, according to national broadcaster NHK.

Toyota said it would suspend operations at three plants in Kyushu until Monday evening, while other companies, including Canon and Mitsubishi Electric, reportedly planned to take similar measures.

Haishen also forced the Japanese coast guard to suspend its search for dozens of missing sailors from a cargo ship that sank in a separate storm, after two crew members were rescued.

The Gulf Livestock 1, carrying 6,000 cows and had 43 crew on board, issued a distress call Wednesday near Amami Oshima as Typhoon Maysak passed through the area.

But patrol ships have remained in the sea so that the search can resume after Haishen has left the region, a duty officer told AFP.