Rare ‘special warning’ issued as violent typhoon makes landfall in Japan

Cyclone Nanmadol has hit the south-west region Japan On Sunday night, officials urged millions of people to take shelter from the powerful storm’s strong winds and heavy rain.

The storm officially went underground at 7pm local time (11am BST) as its eye – the region just outside the eye – approached Kagoshima, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said.

It had winds of up to 150mph and up to 500mm of rain fell in less than 24 hours in parts of the southwestern Kyushu region.

Local officials said several people were injured. In the city of Kushima in southern Miyazaki Prefecture, a woman was slightly injured by shards of glass when the wind blew through the windows of a gymnasium. National TV broadcaster NHK reported 15 people injured, citing its own figures.

At least 20,000 people spent the night in shelters in Kyushu’s Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures, where the JMA issued a rare “special warning” – an alert issued only when it predicts a once-in-a-decade scenario.

National broadcaster NHK, which aggregates information from local authorities, said more than 7 million people had been told to go to shelters or take shelter in sturdy buildings to ride out the storm.

Evacuation warnings are not mandatory, and officials have sometimes struggled to persuade people to move to shelters ahead of severe weather. They tried to allay their concerns about the weather system over the weekend.

“Please stay away from dangerous places and if you feel even the slightest hint of danger, please leave,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida tweeted after calling a cabinet meeting on the storm.

“It would be dangerous to pull out at night. Please proceed to safety while it is light outside.”

The JMA has warned that the region could face an unprecedented threat of strong winds, storms and heavy rains, calling the storm “extremely dangerous”.

Hiro Kato, head of the Meteorological Monitoring and Warning Center, told reporters on Sunday, “The areas affected by the storm are seeing unprecedented rainfall.

“Especially in areas under landslide warnings, it is highly likely that some form of landslide is already occurring.”

He called for “maximum caution even in places where calamities do not usually occur”.

As of Sunday evening, utility companies said about 200,000 homes across the region were without power. Trains, flights and ferries were canceled until the storm passed, and even some convenience stores — normally open all hours and considered a lifeline in disasters — closed their doors.

“The southern part of the Kyushu region may experience violent winds, high waves and high tides that have never been experienced before,” the JMA said on Sunday, urging people to exercise “the utmost caution”.

On the ground, an official in Kagoshima’s Izumi city said the situation was deteriorating rapidly as of Sunday afternoon.

“The wind has become very strong. It is also raining heavily,” he told AFP. “It’s all white outside. Visibility is almost nil.

The storm, which weakened slightly as it neared land, will turn northeast and make landfall on the main island of Japan on Wednesday morning.

Japan is now in typhoon season and faces up to 20 such storms a year, with heavy rain regularly causing landslides or flash floods. In 2019, Typhoon Hagibis hit Japan while it was hosting the Rugby World Cup, killing more than 100 people.

A year ago Typhoon JB closed Kansai Airport in Osaka, killing 14 people. And in 2018, floods and landslides killed more than 200 people in western Japan during the country’s annual rainy season.

Scientists say the climate crisis is increasing the intensity of storms and making extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts and flash floods more frequent and intense.

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