Typhoon Nanmadol made landfall in southwestern Japan on Sunday evening, with authorities urging millions of people to take shelter from the strong winds and torrential rains of the powerful storm.
The storm officially made landfall around 7 p.m. local time (11 a.m. BST) as its eyewall — the region just outside the eye — arrived near Kagoshima, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said. ).
It was packing gusts of up to nearly 150mph and had already dumped up to 500mm of rain in less than 24 hours over parts of the southwestern region of Kyushu.
At least 20,000 people have spent the night in shelters in Kyushu’s Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures, where the JMA has issued a rare ‘special warning’ – an alert that is only issued when it forecasts conditions seen a times in several decades.
National broadcaster NHK, which collates information from local authorities, said more than 7 million people had been ordered to move to shelters or take shelter in sturdy buildings to weather the storm.
Evacuation warnings are not mandatory and authorities have sometimes struggled to persuade people to get to shelters ahead of extreme weather. They sought to voice their concerns about the weather system throughout the weekend.
“Please stay away from dangerous places and evacuate if you sense any hint of danger,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida tweeted after calling a cabinet meeting on the storm.
“It will be dangerous to evacuate at night. Please get to safety while it is still light outside.
The JMA warned that the region could face unprecedented danger from high winds, storm surges and torrential rain and called the storm “very dangerous”.
“The storm-affected areas are experiencing the kind of rain that has never been experienced before,” Hiro Kato, director of the Weather Monitoring and Warning Center, told reporters on Sunday.
“Particularly in areas subject to landslide warnings, it is extremely likely that certain types of landslides are already occurring.”
He called for “maximum caution even in areas where disasters do not usually occur”.
On Sunday evening, utility companies said nearly 200,000 homes in the area were without power. Trains, flights and ferries have been canceled until the storm has passed, and even some convenience stores – usually open around the clock and seen as a lifeline in times of disaster – have closed.
“The southern part of the Kyushu region may experience the kind of strong winds, high waves and high tides that have never been experienced before,” the JMA said on Sunday, urging people to exercise “the utmost as much caution as possible”.
On the ground, an official from the city of Izumi in Kagoshima said conditions were rapidly deteriorating on Sunday afternoon.
“The wind has become extremely strong. The rain is also falling very hard,” he told AFP. “It’s a total white-out outside. Visibility is almost zero.
The storm, which weakened slightly as it approached land, is expected to turn northeast and sweep across Japan’s main island on Wednesday morning.
Japan is now in typhoon season and faces 20 such storms a year, regularly seeing heavy rains that cause landslides or flash floods. In 2019, Typhoon Hagibis swept through Japan as it hosted the Rugby World Cup, claiming the lives of more than 100 people.
A year earlier, Typhoon Jebi shut down Kansai Airport in Osaka, killing 14 people. And in 2018, floods and landslides killed more than 200 people in western Japan during the country’s annual rainy season.
Scientists say the climate crisis is increasing the severity of storms and making extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts and flash floods more frequent and intense.