Millions urged to shelter as Typhoon Nanmadol bears down on Japan

Japanese officials have ordered more than 4 million people to seek shelter as a powerful typhoon approached the country’s southernmost main island.

Weather experts predict Typhoon Nanmadol could be one of the most destructive tropical storms to strike Japan in recent decades, bringing damaging winds and flooding across most of the country.

Prime Minister Fumio Kushida urged residents of affected areas to “evacuate to a safe place while it is still light” on Sunday afternoon, as he convened a meeting of emergency personnel. “Pay close attention to weather information and evacuation information, stay away from dangerous places such as rivers, waterways and places where there is a risk of landslides, and evacuate without hesitation if you feel even the slightest danger.”

Japan’s weather agency said the typhoon was carrying wind gusts of up to 168 mph near the remote Minami Daito island, southeast of Okinawa. Some smaller islands of southern Japan were also under tsunami advisories Sunday afternoon after an earthquake struck Taiwan, according to national broadcaster NHK.

A Level 5 alert, the highest on Japan’s disaster warning scale, was issued to more than 110,000 people, according to national broadcaster NHK, with Level 4 evacuation orders affecting more than 4 million people across Kyushu, the southwesternmost of Japan’s main islands. Dozens of flights were canceled or diverted Sunday because of the bad weather, according to notices posted by Japan’s main airlines, and some areas were without power. Bullet train services to Kyushu were also suspended, local media reported.

Ryuta Kurora, the head of the Japan Meteorological Agency’s forecast unit, told a news conference that “unprecedented” storms — including high waves, storm surges and record rainfall — could strike the region.

At 4:45 p.m. local time Sunday, the center of the typhoon was near Cape Sata, at the southern tip of Kyushu, Japan’s meteorological agency said. Authorities earlier advised residents to “be extremely cautious of storms, high waves, and storm surges,” along with landslides and flooding. Waves of up to 14 meters (46 feet) are predicted for Sunday in some areas. Violent winds are predicted to continue into Monday in western Japan and “may collapse some houses” on Kyushu, the agency warned. “Secure your own safety as soon as possible,” it said.

Strongest storm in decades battering Alaska

Japan is in typhoon season, which routinely brings more than a dozen storms a year. In 2019, Typhoon Hagibis produced a record deluge that caused deadly flooding and landslides in highly populated areas of northern Japan, killing more than 80 people.

That typhoon was especially deadly because the inner core of the typhoon, with its heaviest rains and highest winds, remained intact as it swept across Tokyo and dumped heavy rains across northeastern Japan, too.

Scientists say global warming is increasing the intensity of storms, bringing more frequent and severe weather events globally. Researchers are also starting to attribute the economic cost of weather events to climate change.

A study published in the journal Climatic Change this year said that of the approximately $15 billion in damage caused by Typhoon Hagibis in Japan in 2019, an estimated $4 billion can be attributed to global warming — including record rainfall. Other studies have used similar methods to calculate the costs linked to climate change of hurricanes in the North Atlantic.

The typhoon warnings in Japan come as a powerful ocean cyclone — the strongest storm in decades — is blasting the western coast of Alaska, bringing major flooding to coastal communities and wind gusts up to 90 mph. Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, a hurricane warning has been issued as Tropical Storm Fiona strengthens.

Jason Samenow and Andrew Freedman contributed to this report.

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