Powerful typhoon Neoguri lashes Japan's Okinawa islands

Powerful typhoon Neoguri lashes Japan's Okinawa islands

TOKYO - Powerful typhoon Neoguri lashed Japan's southern Okinawa islands Tuesday, forcing over half a million people to seek shelter, as the region's worst storm in years damaged buildings, downed trees and brought air and sea traffic to a halt.

The typhoon packed gusts of up to 216kmh with torrential downpours, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights as authorities said at least one person had died and several were injured by the raging storm.

In the capital Naha, traffic lights went off and television footage showed trees split by the force of the storm, signboards flying around and a restaurant destroyed, with the shattered building blocking a street.

The coastguard and local police said a 62-year-old man was found dead after he was knocked off his boat in rough waters near Japan's mainland - the weather agency earlier warned that waves could reach as high as 14m.

Separately, Okinawa police said at least four people were injured, including an 83-year-old woman, with public broadcaster NHK putting the number of injured at 19.

Schools across the sprawling archipelago were also closed while nearly 70,000 Okinawan households had no power, NHK said.

"We have no water or electricity, but the gas is still on," said Takuro Ogawa, who lives in Chatan, a town in central Okinawa.

Late Monday, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued its highest typhoon alert for Okinawa's main island, home to around 1.2 million people, as well as the outlying Miyako islands. The alert for the Miyako region was downgraded Tuesday evening.

Authorities had warned there was a risk to life, as well as major property damage from the typhoon and subsequent flooding and landslides.

Officials called on 590,000 people across Okinawa to take shelter in their homes or evacuate to community centres and town halls.

"We have urged residents to evacuate when they see any danger," a local municipal official told AFP by telephone.

More than 700 people have taken refuge in shelters, Jiji Press agency reported, as the powerful storm barrels toward the Japanese mainland.

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