Japan’s weather agency on Monday extended its highest alert to Okinawa’s populous main island as super typhoon Neoguri approached the southern chain, saying it may be one of the worst storms for decades.
The top-level warning means the typhoon poses a threat to life and could inflict massive damage from gusts of up to 270 kilometers per hour and torrential rain.
There are about 1.2 million residents on the main island. An earlier alert only covered the Miyako Island region with a population of 53,000.
The biggest U.S. Air Force base in the Pacific, located on the main island, evacuated some of its aircraft as officers stressed that Neoguri may be deadly.
Waves could reach as high as 14 meters, an official of the Japan Meteorological Agency said in a warning that was likely to revive memories of Japan’s quake-tsunami disaster in 2011.
The typhoon was some 500 km south of the main Okinawan island at 1200 GMT and was moving north northwest at 25 kph.
Miyako Island, in the central area of the archipelago, was in the expected path of the massive storm.
“Record-level violent winds and high waves are posing a serious danger to the Miyako Island region,” Satoshi Ebihara, the agency’s chief weather forecaster, told an evening news conference.
“People are advised to refrain from going outdoors . . . evacuate if necessary before violent winds occur and take appropriate action to protect themselves,” he said.
The massive gusts and torrential rain will possibly reach mainland Japan by Wednesday, an weather agency official said earlier Monday.
A professional baseball game between the DeNA BayStars and the Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo, scheduled for Tuesday in the main Okinawan city of Naha, was postponed due to the typhoon.
The meteorological agency forecast Neoguri — whose name means “racoon” in Korean — would dump up to 80 millimeters of rain an hour on Okinawa as it pounds the archipelago.
The storm, which could affect an area with a 500 kilometer radius, was expected to be downgraded by the time it hit the Japanese mainland.
However the Kyushu region — next to the main island of Honshu where major cities including Tokyo and Osaka are located — was already seeing heavy rain and officials warned of possible floods and landslides.
“I’m calling on the heads of municipalities not to hesitate in issuing evacuation warnings and don’t be afraid of being overcautious,” Keiji Furuya, the state minister in charge of disaster management, told a government meeting.
The U.S. Kadena Air Force base in Okinawa, the largest U.S. airbase in the Pacific, began evacuating some of its aircraft Sunday in preparation for the typhoon.
“I can’t stress enough how dangerous this typhoon may be when it hits Okinawa,” Commander James Hecker of the 18th Wing stationed in Kadena said in a statement posted online.
“This is the most powerful typhoon forecast to hit the island in 15 years; we expect damaging winds to arrive by early Tuesday morning.
“So be prepared!” Hecker said. “Tie down your outdoor items and work with your neighbors to help them.”
He added: “During the typhoon, do not go outside… anything not tied down, even small items, could become deadly projectiles.”
Okinawa is regularly hit by typhoons but islanders were taking no chances, with fishermen on Miyako island bringing boats back to port and tying them down.
“It’s rare that we brace for a typhoon (as early as) July,” one fisherman said.