US military officials feared dead as typhoon heads for Japan
TOKYO - A strong typhoon was churning toward Japan's main island on Monday, leaving four people dead or missing including three US military officials, according to media reports.
Typhoon Phanfone has also grounded more than 600 flights and forced Japanese authorities to suspend a search for people missing on a volcano that erupted just over a week ago, claiming dozens of lives.
The typhoon, packing winds of up to 198 kilometres (123 miles) per hour, could make landfall in central Japan on Monday morning and hit Tokyo during the morning rush hour, according to Japan's Meteorological Agency.
The typhoon was about 70 kilometres southeast of Owase, Mie prefecture, in the Pacific at 5:00 am (2000 GMT on Sunday) and moving northeast at 45 kilometres per hour, the agency said.
Local governments in many areas issued evacuation advisories to more than 24,000 residents, public broadcaster NHK said, while the weather agency warned that landslides, floods, high waves and heavy rains could hit large areas of central and western Japan.
Three US military officials were engulfed by high waves triggered by the storm when they were taking pictures Sunday afternoon on the coast of Okinawa, NHK said, adding that one of them was found dead and the remaining two were still missing.
A 21-year-old surfer was also missing in the Pacific off Fujisawa, southwest of Tokyo, while nine people were injured across the nation in storm-related accidents, NHK said.
At least 608 flights were grounded in Japan on Monday due to strong winds after 216 flights were cancelled on Sunday, NHK said.
Meanwhile, authorities suspended the search for the bodies of at least 12 hikers believed to be lying on the still-smouldering Mount Ontake, where 51 bodies have already been retrieved.
The volcano was packed with walkers when it burst to life on September 27, with many there to witness the spectacular colours of the countryside at the arrival of autumn.
The eruption is Japan's deadliest in almost 90 years and nearly 1,000 troops, firefighters and police have participated in a search made treacherous by the gases still rising from the peak, as well as a knee-deep layer of sticky ash.
"We want to resume operations as soon as possible when weather permits," said an official of the crisis management office of Nagano, where the volcano sits.