Typhoon Nanmadol made landfall in south-western Japan on Sunday night, with authorities urging millions of people to take shelter from the powerful storm’s high winds and torrential rain.
The storm officially made landfall at about 7pm local time (11am 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 almost 150mph and had already dumped up to 500mm of rain in less than 24 hours on parts of the south-western 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 that is issued only when it forecasts conditions seen once in several decades.
The national broadcaster NHK, which collates information from local authorities, said more than 7 million people had been told to move to shelters or take refuge in sturdy buildings to ride out the storm.
The evacuation warnings are not mandatory, and authorities have at times struggled to persuade people to move to shelters before extreme weather. They sought to drive home their concerns about the weather system throughout the weekend.
“Please stay away from dangerous places, and please evacuate if you feel even the slightest hint of danger,” the prime minister, Fumio Kishida, tweeted after convening a government meeting on the storm.
“It will be dangerous to evacuate at night. Please move to safety while it’s still light outside.”
The JMA has warned the region could face unprecedented danger from high winds, storm surges and torrential rain and called the storm “very dangerous”.
“Areas affected by the storm are seeing the sort of rain that has never been experienced before,” Hiro Kato, the head of the Weather Monitoring and Warning Centre, told reporters Sunday.
“Especially in areas under landslide warnings, it is extremely probable that some kinds of landslides are already happening.”
He urged “maximum caution even in areas where disasters do not usually happen”.
By Sunday evening, utility companies said nearly 200,000 homes across the region were without power. Trains, flights and ferries were cancelled until the passage of the storm, and even some convenience stores – generally open all hours and considered a lifeline in disasters – shut their doors.
“The southern part of the Kyushu region may see the sort of violent wind, high waves and high tides that have never been experienced before,” the JMA said on Sunday, urging people to exercise “the highest caution possible”.
On the ground, an official in Kagoshima’s Izumi city said conditions were deteriorating rapidly by Sunday afternoon.
“The wind has become extremely strong. Rain is falling hard, too,” 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 north-east and sweep up across Japan’s main island on Wednesday morning.
Japan is now in typhoon season and faces 20 such storms a year, routinely seeing heavy rains that cause landslides or flash floods. In 2019, Typhoon Hagibis smashed into 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 causing extreme weather such as heatwaves, droughts and flash floods to become more frequent and intense.