TOKYO (AFP) – Strong typhoon Phanfone slammed into Japan Monday, packing gusting winds and huge waves that swept three US military officials out to sea and brought travel chaos to a nation accustomed to dealing with nature’s fury.
Winds of up to 180 kilometres (112 miles) per hour whipped ashore as the typhoon made landfall in central Japan early in the morning, the meteorological agency said.
The storm whirled over Tokyo at around 11am (0200 GMT) and then headed northeast, dumping rain further up the coast of Honshu while its eye moved out over the Pacific Ocean.
Six people are already dead or missing, including the three US military officials, according to Japanese police and coast guards.
Typhoon Phanfone grounded more than 600 flights, and caused the cancellation of dozens of bullet train services.
It also forced Japanese authorities to suspend the search on a volcano for the bodies of those still missing more than a week after it erupted suddenly, claiming dozens of lives.
The leading edge of the storm brought a nasty commute to Tokyo’s morning rush hour, with hundreds of thousands of office workers caught up in the driving rain that lashed the streets.
Localised flooding was reported while television footage showed around 15 of the 20-metre high poles holding up the netting at a golf driving range had collapsed, crashing into houses in Chiba, east of Tokyo.
The storm also battered Japan’s auto industries.
Toyota Motor said it suspended operations at its 12 factories in Aichi, central Japan, Monday morning due to the impact of the typhoon on its parts supplies.
“But we plan to resume operation at around 4pm as there was no damage to the facilities,” a company spokeswoman said.
The weather agency warned that, even as the storm passed out to see, landslides and floods were still a risk in a country where a relatively wet summer brought numerous landslides, including in Hiroshima where more than 70 people died.
In the central Japanese prefecture of Shizuoka, more than 50,000 people were ordered to evacuate their homes, while around 1.7 million others were advised to take refuge, local authorities said.
The first fatalities of Phanfone had already been recorded.
Three US military officials were engulfed by high waves triggered by the storm on the southern island of Okinawa.
“Three officials were taking pictures with high waves whipped up by the typhoon in the background,” a local police spokesman said.