Powerful Typhoon Bolaven Nears Japan’s Okinawa Island

By | August 27, 2012

The strongest typhoon to approach Okinawa in several years was bearing down on the southern Japanese island on Sunday as residents were told to stay indoors and warned its strong gusts could overturn cars and cause waves of up to 12 meters (40 feet).

Slow-moving Typhoon Bolaven was centered about 150 kilometers (93 miles) southeast of Okinawa and was expected to pass over the island Sunday evening, dumping as much as 500 millimeters (20 inches) of rain over a 24-hour period, weather officials said.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said wind speeds near the center of the typhoon were about 180 km/h (112 mph), with extremely strong gusts reaching 252 kilometers per hour (155 mph).

Those gusts could knock over telephone poles and even overturn cars, while waves around the island could top 12 meters (40 feet), public broadcaster NHK warned.

NHK reported two injuries, including a 78-year-old man who was knocked over by winds and cut his forehead. There were no reports of major damage, but some 200 households were without electricity and some 300 people had taken shelter in public buildings, said disaster officials in Okinawa, which has a population of 1.4 million.

All domestic and international flights in and out of Naha Airport, serving the island’s capital, were cancelled.

Gusts from the typhoon could equal or surpass the previous record for Naha of 265 km/h (165 mph) winds in a 1956 typhoon, said Tsukasa Uezu, an official with the Okinawa Meteorological Observatory Weather Information Center.

The storm’s relatively slow movement -15 km/h (9 mph) to the northwest – means “exposure to wind and rain will be that much longer,” and raises the possibility of serious damage, said Shun Miygai, an official with the Okinawa Disaster Prevention and Crisis Management Center.

The Japan Meteorological Agency issued storm and storm surge warnings in Okinawa prefecture and for high waves in the waters around the island.

More than half the 50,000 U.S. troops based in Japan are stationed in Okinawa. At Kadena Air Base, one of the biggest bases on the island, all shops and service facilities were ordered closed and movement around the base was to be kept to a minimum. All entry into the ocean was prohibited.

The typhoon, the 15th of the season, was expected to continue into the East China Sea and then into the Yellow Sea, possibly affecting southern coastal areas of South Korea by Tuesday, Japanese weather officials said.

Bolaven comes on the heels of Typhoon Tembin, which soaked southern Taiwan on Friday, largely sparing populated areas before blowing out to sea again.

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