Typhoon Nanmadol made landfall in the southwest Japan Sunday evening, as authorities urged millions of people to take shelter from strong storm winds and torrential rain.
The Japan Meteorological Agency said the storm officially made landfall around 7 p.m. local time (11 a.m. GMT) as it reached its eye wall – the area outside the eye – near Kagoshima.
It was collecting gusts of up to 150 mph, and it had already dumped up to 500 mm of rain in less than 24 hours over parts of the southwestern Kyushu region.
At least 20,000 people spent the night in shelters in Kyushu’s Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures, where the JMA has issued a rare “special warning” — an alert issued only when it predicts conditions seen once in several decades.
More than 7 million people have been asked to move to shelters or take shelter in sturdy buildings to weather the storm, national broadcaster NHK, which collects information from local authorities, said.
Evacuation warnings are not mandatory, and authorities have at times struggled to persuade people to move to shelters before severe weather. They sought to take home their concerns about the weather system throughout the weekend.
“Please stay away from dangerous places, and please evacuate if you feel the slightest hint of danger,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida wrote on Twitter after a government meeting on the storm.
“It would be dangerous to evacuate at night. Please move to a safe place while the light is still out.”
The JMA warned that the region could face an unprecedented danger from high winds, storm surge and torrential rain, describing the storm as “extremely dangerous”.
“The areas affected by the storm are experiencing the kind of rain they’ve never seen before,” Hiro Kato, head of the Weather Watch and Warning Center, told reporters on Sunday.
“Especially in areas that are subject to landslide warnings, it is very likely that some types of landslides will indeed occur.”
He urged “the utmost vigilance, even in areas where disasters do not usually occur.”
By Sunday evening, utility companies said nearly 200,000 homes across the region had lost power. Trains, flights, and ferries were canceled until the storm passed, and even some small shops – which are generally open throughout business hours and are a lifeline in disaster situations – closed their doors.
“The southern part of Kyushu may experience the kind of high winds, high waves and high tides that have never been seen before,” the JMA said on Sunday, urging people to exercise “the highest possible caution.”
On the ground, an official in Izumi, Kagoshima, said conditions were rapidly deteriorating on Sunday afternoon.
“The wind has become very strong. It’s raining too,” he told AFP. “It’s a completely white place outside. Visibility is almost non-existent.”
The storm, which has weakened slightly as it approaches land, is expected to turn northeast and sweep the main island of Japan on Wednesday morning.
Japan is now going through typhoon season and experiences 20 such storms annually, and routinely sees torrential rains that cause landslides or flash floods. In 2019, Typhoon Hagibis hit Japan where it hosted the Rugby World Cup, killing more than 100 people.
A year ago, Typhoon Jebi closed the 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 intensity of storms and causing an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather such as heat waves, droughts and flash floods.