TOKYO — Japanese authorities on Sunday ordered more than a million residents of western Japan to seek shelter as a major storm lashed the coast with high winds and threatened record-breaking flooding.
Typhoon Haishen sat off the coast of the western island of Kyushu gathering power and creating chaos in the region, where it knocked down power lines and disrupted flights and trains.
Local officials ordered 1.8 million people to evacuate seven prefectures across the region and recommended that 5.6 million others across 10 prefectures seek shelter ahead of the storm, which was expected to pass by Japan without making landfall and head toward South Korea.
The Japan Meteorological Agency issued its highest-level warning for the storm, cautioning that it would bring record-high tides and that residents should be prepared for “large-scale flooding.”
“High tides combined with large waves could top coastal sea walls and inundate a wide area,” it said in a statement on its website Sunday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned residents to listen to local authorities and “take immediate action to protect your life,” adding that the country’s Self-Defense Forces were prepared to offer aid in the event of widespread damage.
By Sunday evening, fears for the worst seemed to be waning as it appeared the storm would only brush the region. Nevertheless, it was powerful enough to create major disruptions in the area.
As of 10 p.m., more than 200,000 homes in Kyushu had lost power as the storm blew down trees and power lines, according to Kyushu Electric Power.
Japan Railways said it would cancel some bullet train service in the region through Monday evening. And All Nippon Airways said it had canceled hundreds of flights across Kyushu and Okinawa through Tuesday.
The 7-Eleven convenience store chain said it had closed more than 2,000 outlets across the area affected by the storm.
Around a dozen people have suffered injuries, according to reports by Japan’s public broadcaster NHK.
Haishen is the second major storm of this year’s typhoon season, which has been unusually calm so far. Typhoon Maysak grazed Kyushu this past week before heading to the Korean Peninsula.
Typhoons are common in Japan, although the strength and severity of the storms have grown in recent years, a trend that climatologists have attributed to climate change.
Last October, Typhoon Hagibis blew through central Japan, killing about 100 people and causing more than $17 billion in economic damage. The typhoon raised concerns that Japan’s infrastructure is insufficient for the era of superstorms, when so-called hundred-year floods are becoming increasingly common.
This year, evacuation orders could be complicated by the coronavirus pandemic as evacuees worry about being exposed to the virus in local shelters.
Shelters in Kyushu’s Miyazaki city were accepting less than half of their normal capacity in order to allow for social distancing, according to NHK. Some evacuees were taking shelter at hotels in an effort to avoid evacuation facilities.