Tokyo: Japan is bracing for one of its worst storms in years as typhoon Neoguri heads towards the southern Okinawa island chain, with the national weather agency issuing its highest alert and nearly half-a-million people urged 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 an hour.
"The strength of the typhoon is a once in several decades event," Akihiro Ohta, Japan's transport minister, told reporters in Tokyo on Tuesday.
The Japan Meteorological Agency issued the alert for Okinawa's main island, home to about 1.2 million people, as well as the outlying Miyako islands.
Waves could reach as high as 14 metres, a weather agency official said on Tuesday, as schools across the sprawling archipelago south of Japan's main islands were closed while air and sea traffic services ground to a halt.
About 6500 Okinawan households had no power early on Tuesday.
"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.
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 - which means racoon - may be deadly.
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 said. "We have urged residents to evacuate when they see any danger."
"When the wind blows most strongly, it's impossible to stand. You have to hold on to something," said Kei Shima, an Okinawa resident in her 30s.
AFP, Bloomberg, Reuters