National

Powerful Typhoon Trami batters Okinawa, churns toward mainland Japan

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

A powerful typhoon pummeled Okinawa on Saturday, injuring at least 18 people, as weather officials warned the storm will rip through the rest of Japan over the weekend.

Typhoon Trami, packing gusts of up to 216 kph (134 mph) near its center, is forecast to hit the mainland early Sunday and could cause extreme weather across the country into Monday.

Television footage showed branches ripped from trees blocking a main street in Naha, torrential horizontal rain and massive waves slamming into breakwaters on a remote island.

Some 600 people had evacuated to shelters in Okinawa and electricity had been cut to more than 121,000 homes, public broadcaster NHK said.

Local policemen equipped with chain saws battled strong winds as they worked to remove fallen trees.

In Okinawa, where its gubernatorial election is scheduled for Sunday, more than half of the municipalities have decided to close early voting stations due to the weather, according to the prefectural election administration commission.

Trami forced airlines, including Japan Airlines Co. and All Nippon Airways Co., to cancel more than 410 flights to or from airports in Okinawa and Kagoshima prefectures on Saturday, affecting over 39,000 passengers.

Kansai International Airport in Osaka Prefecture plans to temporarily close its two runways as early as Sunday morning, about seven hours before the typhoon is expected to come closest to the airport.

The main global gateway to the region was forced to close earlier this month after a runway and a terminal building were flooded amid high tides when Typhoon Jebi made landfall on Sept. 4. The airport only resumed full operations on Sept. 21. Jebi also drove a tanker ship into the only bridge that connects the mainland to the airport, which is on an artificial island in Osaka Bay, stranding thousands of people at the facility at one point

West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) said it will halt all trains between Hiroshima and Shin-Osaka stations from shortly before 1 p.m. Sunday as the typhoon is expected to affect the area.

It also said it will suspend all train services in the metropolitan area centering on Osaka by noon on Sunday as a precautionary measure. At least 18 people suffered minor injuries in storm-related accidents in Okinawa but no one was feared dead, local officials said Saturday.

“The number may rise, as we are still collecting information,” said Motoki Minei, an official at the island’s disaster-management office. “People in Okinawa are used to typhoons but we are strongly urging them to stay vigilant.”

The Meteorological Agency warned people across Japan to be on alert for “violent winds, high waves, heavy rain.”

“The typhoon is feared to bring record rainfalls and violent winds over large areas,” agency official Yasushi Kajiwara told reporters.

“Please stay on alert, evacuate early and ensure your safety,” the official said.

Fishermen in Kagoshima Bay, where the typhoon is expected to make landfall, were already making preparations, tying down their boats as Trami approached. Masakazu Hirase said: “It’s dreadful because we already know there’s another typhoon after this one, but you cannot compete with nature. We do what we can to limit the damage.”

Trami is the latest in a series of extreme natural disasters to strike Japan. Western parts of the country are still recovering from Jebi and deadly record rains also hit the region earlier this year.

Also in September, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake rocked Hokkaido, sparking landslides and leaving 41 people dead.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5