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September 19, 2017

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Powerful Typhoon Neoguri bears down on Japan

TOKYO -- Typhoon Neoguri bore down on the Japanese mainland Wednesday after slamming into the southern Okinawa island chain, killing two people in the country and leaving a trail of damage in its wake.

Packing gusts of up to 162 kilometers (100 miles) per hour, the typhoon could hit the southern main island of Kyushu on Thursday before moving east along the Japanese archipelago, the national weather agency said.

Officials said Neoguri would bring torrential rain and warned of the risk of flooding and landslides, after the storm — which has weakened from a super typhoon — forced half a million people to seek shelter in Okinawa on Tuesday.

By Wednesday afternoon, the typhoon was churning in the East China Sea headed toward southern Japan, as round-the-clock television footage pinpointed its latest location and helmet-clad reporters surveying the damage left by the powerful storm.

In the Okinawan capital Naha, traffic lights went out and television footage showed split trees, signboards flying about and a destroyed restaurant, with the shattered building blocking a street.

The weather agency warned that as much as 300 millimeters (12 inches) of rain could fall on Kyushu in just 24 hours through noon Thursday.

Kyushu, situated next to the biggest island of Honshu where major cities including Tokyo and Osaka are located, was already experiencing heavy rain and strong winds.

Residents in remote villages and larger communities across the island — where the largest city Fukuoka has a population of more than one million — were being urged to seek shelter before nightfall.

On Monday officials issued their highest typhoon alert for Okinawa, warning that Neoguri — which means raccoon in Korean — could turn deadly.

Two days later, the weather agency's chief forecaster Satoshi Ebihara said the situation in Okinawa remained serious even as the typhoon moved out to sea, with the agency issuing a fresh rainfall alert.

He also called on residents across the country of 128 million to regularly monitor the latest weather warnings and advisories.

"Typhoon Neoguri could make a landfall in Kyushu tomorrow and approach eastern Japan on the following day," Ebihara said.

"Western and eastern Japan will likely see heavy, powerful rain, particularly along the Pacific coastline. We urge people in the affected areas to exercise the utmost caution," he added.

Just over 52,000 households had no power as of noon Wednesday in Okinawa, while schools were closed with air and sea traffic halted.

In just 12 hours, Okinawa's main island was hammered by twice the amount of rain that usually falls in the entire month of July.

Some in the village of Yomitan were shocked to see muddy water sloshing into their homes as heavy wind and rain pummeled the area.

"I'm 89 years old and this is the first time I've experienced something like this — nature can be overwhelming," an elderly woman in the village told public broadcaster NHK.

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