Powerful typhoon lashes Japan's Okinawa islands

TOKYO – Typhoon Neoguri lashed Japan's southern Okinawa islands, reportedly leaving two dead and forcing more than half a million to seek shelter, as the region's worst storm in years damaged buildings, downed trees and brought air and sea traffic to a halt.

The Japan Meteorological Agency downgraded all severe warnings for Okinawa early on Wednesday after the typhoon passed, packing gusts of up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour with torrential downpours and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights. In the 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 coast guard and local police said a 62-year-old man was found dead after he was knocked off his boat in rough waters near Japan's mainland, while public broadcaster NHK said an 81-year-old fisherman died in southwestern Kumamoto prefecture. Separately, Okinawa police said at least four people were hurt, with NHK putting the number of injured at 25.Schools across the sprawling archipelago were also closed while nearly 70,000 Okinawan households had no power, NHK said.

"We have no water or electricity, but the gas is still on," said Takuro Ogawa, who lives in Chatan, a town in central Okinawa. Late Monday, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued its highest typhoon alert for Okinawa's main island, home to around 1.2 million people, as well as the outlying Miyako islands. The alerts for the Miyako region were also downgraded on Tuesday evening.

Authorities had warned of a risk to life, as well as major property damage from the typhoon and subsequent flooding and landslides. Officials called on some 590,000 people across Okinawa to take shelter in their homes or evacuate to community centres and town halls. "We have urged residents to evacuate when they see any danger," a local municipal official told AFP.

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