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Typhoon Nanmadol strikes Japan as millions told to evacuate

The Japan Meteorological Agency holds a news conference Sept. 17 in Tokyo on Typhoon Nanmadol. (AFP/Getty Images)
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Officials ordered more than 8 million people to evacuate southern and western Japan ahead of a powerful typhoon that made landfall in Kagoshima prefecture in the southern part of the country at 7 p.m. local time Sunday.

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.

The storm’s forecast track passes over much of Honshu, Japan’s main island, meaning major cities including Kyoto and Tokyo will feel its effects. The storm is projected to gradually weaken as it sweeps northeastward and will exit over the Pacific on Tuesday.

When Nanmadol came ashore in Kagoshima prefecture, the southernmost point of Kyushu — the third-largest of Japan’s five main islands — its pressure was fourth lowest on record for a typhoon striking the country dating back to 1951. The lower the pressure, the more intense the storm. The storm’s peak winds at landfall were estimated to be around 110 mph, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane.

Shortly after landfall, these winds dropped to around 90 mph with gusts to 115 mph. While predicted to weaken, the storm was still expected to remain at typhoon strength — with winds of at least 75 mph — until Monday morning when it was forecast to be just west of Kyoto.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Sunday afternoon urged residents of affected areas to “evacuate to a safe place while it is still light,” 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.”

Before landfall, 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. The storm weakened some as it drew north but winds gusted as high as 97 mph at Kagoshima in southern Kyushu. 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 330,000 people, according to national broadcaster NHK, with Level 4 evacuation orders affecting more than 8 million people across Kyushu, the southwesternmost of Japan’s main islands as well as the Shikoku and Chugoku regions. 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. Through Sunday evening, some locations in far southern Japan had already seen about two feet of rain.

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.

Andrew Freedman contributed to this report.