Thousands of people took refuge in shelters in southwestern Japan on Sunday as powerful Typhoon Nanmadol hit the region, prompting authorities to urge more than four million residents to evacuate.
The typhoon, with gusts of up to 234 kilometers per hour, made landfall in Kagoshima Prefecture around 7 p.m.
Previously, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) issued a rare “special warning” for the Kagoshima and Miyazaki areas of Kyushu, an alert that is only issued when it forecasts conditions seen once in decades.
In the morning, heavy rains and strong winds battered the southern island region of Japan, with nearly 98,000 homes in Kagoshima, Kumamoto, Nagasaki and Miyazaki already without power.
Trains, flights and ferry rides were canceled until the storm passed, and even some convenience stores usually open around the clock and considered a lifeline in times of disaster closed their doors.
“Please stay away from dangerous places and evacuate if you sense any hint of danger,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida tweeted after calling a government meeting on the storm.
“It will be dangerous to evacuate at night. Please get to safety while it is still light outside,” he added.
The JMA has warned that the region could face “unprecedented” danger of high winds, storm surges and torrential rain.
“Maximum caution is required,” said Ryuta Kurora, head of the JMA’s forecasting unit, on Saturday. “It’s a very dangerous typhoon.”
“The wind will be so strong that some houses may collapse,” Kurora told reporters, also warning of flooding and landslides.
National broadcaster NHK, which compiles local warnings, said more than four million people across Kyushu had received evacuation warnings, with officials in Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures saying more than 15,000 people were in local shelters on Sunday afternoon.
Evacuation warnings call on people to move to shelters or alternative accommodations that can withstand extreme weather conditions.
But they are not mandatory, and in past extreme weather events authorities have struggled to convince residents to take shelter quickly enough.
Kurora urged people to evacuate before the worst of the storm hits and warned that even in strong buildings residents should take precautions.
“Please move into strong buildings before strong winds start blowing and stay away from windows, even inside strong buildings,” he said during a late night press conference.
On Sunday morning, high-speed train operations in the area were halted and NHK said hundreds of flights had been cancelled.
“The southern part of the Kyushu region can experience the kind of strong winds, high waves and high tides that have never been experienced before,” the JMA said on Sunday, urging residents to exercise “the utmost as much caution as possible”.
On the ground, an official from the city of Izumi in Kagoshima said conditions were rapidly deteriorating.
“The wind has become extremely strong. The rain is also falling hard,” he told AFP. “It’s a total white-out outside. Visibility is almost zero.
On the coast of Minamata city in Kyushu state, fishing boats moored for safety floated on the waves as sea spray and streaks of rain washed down the promenade.
Japan is currently in typhoon season and faces around 20 such storms a year, regularly seeing heavy rains that cause landslides or flash floods.
In 2019, Typhoon Hagibis swept through Japan as it hosted the Rugby World Cup, claiming the lives of more than 100 people.
A year earlier, Typhoon Jebi shut down 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 climate change is increasing the severity of storms and making extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts and flash floods more frequent and intense.