• AFP-Jiji, Kyodo, REUTERS, Jiji

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Powerful Typhoon Haishen roared toward southern Japan on Sunday, bringing violent winds and heavy rains, with officials warning it could be strong enough to snap power poles and flip vehicles.

Haishen, categorized as “large” and “extremely strong,” was expected to move through the Amami group of islands near Kyushu later in the afternoon.

Authorities had recommended evacuation and warned of potentially record rainfall, unprecedented wind, high tides and large ocean swells.

“Areas where the typhoon passes are expected to see record high winds and waves,” a Meteorology Agency official told a nationally televised news conference on Sunday. “I am urging everyone to take the utmost caution, follow local authorities’ instructions and protect your own life. Once you enter an area of high wind, you may not be able to move to a safer place.”

The storm was forecast to head north-northwest and travel off the western coast of Kyushu from the evening through early Monday before reaching South Korea, according to the Meteorological Agency.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called an emergency Cabinet meeting to coordinate the government’s response to the storm, and warned of flooding and landslides.

“Maximum caution is needed as record rain, violent winds, high waves and high tides are possible,” he said.

“I ask the people in Japan, including those who live in high-risk areas for flooding rivers or high tides to stay informed and take action immediately to ensure their safety.”

At 3 p.m. Sunday, Haishen was located about 110 km south-southwest of Yakushima Island, packing gusts up to 216 kph.

Southern areas of Kyushu could see rainfall of up to 600 millimeters in the 24 hours to 6 a.m. Monday, the agency said. Amami, northern Kyushu and the Tokai central region on Honshu could see up to 400 mm.

Winds of up to 182.5 kph were observed in the village of Minamidaito in Okinawa early Sunday morning, according to the agency.

Authorities across Kyushu have issued evacuation advisories for nearly 2.5 million residents, particularly in Kagoshima and neighboring Miyazaki, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

Across the country, noncompulsory evacuation orders and advisories covered some 3.5 million residents, according to national broadcaster NHK.

Evacuation orders in Japan are not compulsory, though authorities strongly urge people to follow them.

Rather than evacuating to designated local schools and community centers, some residents have chosen to seek safety at local hotels to try and reduce the risk of coronavirus infections at crowded public shelters, according to local media.

The storm has forced the cancellation of 528 flights, according to NHK.

Kyushu Railway Co. said its bullet and local train services will be suspended on Monday, while West Japan Railway Co. has decided to cancel Sanyo Shinkansen services between Hiroshima and Hakata stations all day Monday.

Convenience store operator FamilyMart Co. has closed 600 stores since Saturday, accounting for one-third of all outlets in the seven prefectures in Kyushu and in Okinawa Prefecture.

On Monday, FamilyMart plans to stop delivery of products to stores in Kyushu.

Industry rivals Seven-Eleven Japan Co. and Lawson Inc. have closed more than half of their outlets in the area, mainly in Kyushu.

Among restaurant chain operators, Yoshinoya Holdings Co. decided to close some 120 beef-on-rice bowl restaurants in 13 prefectures, including in Kyushu, from Saturday to Monday, while Skylark Holdings Co. will shut about 140 Gusto family restaurants in the seven Kyushu prefectures and Okinawa on Sunday and Monday.

Ootoya Holdings Co. will close its teishoku set meal restaurants in Okinawa and four other prefectures through Monday.

Toyota Motor Corp. said it would suspend operations at three plants in Kyushu until Monday evening, while other companies, including Canon and Mitsubishi Electric, reportedly planned to take similar measures.

Sony Corp. decided to stop operations at its plants in Isahaya, Nagasaki Prefecture, the town of Kikuyo, Kumamoto Prefecture, and in Kirishima, Kagoshima Prefecture, from Sunday afternoon to around Monday.

Daihatsu Motor Co. will suspend the operations of subsidiary Daihatsu Motor Kyushu Co.’s plant in Nakatsu, Oita Prefecture, and Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, through Monday afternoon.

Haishen also forced the Japan Coast Guard to suspend its search for dozens of missing sailors from a cargo ship that sank in a separate storm, after two crew members were rescued.

The Gulf Livestock 1, carrying 6,000 cows and had 43 crew on board, issued a distress call Wednesday near Amami Oshima as Typhoon Maysak passed through the area.

But patrol ships have remained in the sea so that the search can resume after Haishen leaves the region, a duty officer said.

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