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Typhoon pounds Okinawa

Jul. 8, 2014 - 06:15PM   |  
Trees blown down by strong winds are seen in Okinawa on July 8. Japan was bracing for one of its worst storms in over a decade as typhoon Neoguri barreled towards the southern island chain. (Jiji Press/AFP via Getty Images)
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BEIJING — Typhoon Neoguri was downgraded from “super typhoon” status but still packed a powerful punch Tuesday as it lashed Japan’s Okinawa island chain with strong winds, heavy rain and large waves.

About half a million residents were advised to evacuate though most appeared to stay home as sustained winds reached 120 miles per hour, with gusts up to 148 mph, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. The storm could be one of the strongest to hit Japan in decades, with waves up to 46 feet high, said the agency.

Four people, including an 83-year-old woman, were injured and a fisherman was missing, said Japanese government officials, reported the BBC. Local airports in the Okinawa region have been closed and some aircraft moved from U.S. air base Kadena. Most of the U.S. troops stationed in Japan are based in Okinawa.

Jeff Schlueter, an Air Force lieutenant colonel stationed at Kadena Air Base, told Bloomberg News that the storm had halted most work there. “It’s windy and rainy, but I’ve been through worse,” he said. “I’m from the Midwest, we get tornadoes.”

The semi-tropical islands in the Okinawa chain, located in the far southwest of the country, are highly popular with summer tourists from the rest of Japan. Islands hit by the storm Tuesday included Miyako, with some of the area’s best beaches. By Tuesday evening, storm surges may intensify as the typhoon reaches Okinawa’s main and most populous island.

Typhoon Neoguri – whose name is a Korean word meaning “raccoon dog” – is expected to weaken as it heads to the next main island of Kyushu. Although Japan is well-prepared to handle the typhoons that regularly batter its coastlines, this storm may cause the greatest damage by unleashing torrential rains that trigger flash floods and landslides in Kyushu and elsewhere.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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