Taiwan and Japan brace for a potential super typhoon

Residents in Taiwan and Japan are bracing for Typhoon Lekima, which could become a super typhoon by the time it hits a Japanese island chain on Thursday.

Currently barreling northwest across the Pacific, Lekima intensified Wednesday night with winds at 205 kilometers per hour (about 127 miles per hour), the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane.

It is expected to strengthen into a super typhoon by Thursday night — potentially reaching winds of 240 kph (about 150 mph).

Japan’s southern Ryukyu Islands, which stretch north of Taiwan to the Japanese island of Kyushu, are expected to be hardest hit Thursday night. The chain of islands includes Okinawa, with a population of 1.4 million people.

The possibility of a super typhoon could mean a “serious natural disaster is possibly to take place,” said Mitsugu Noguchi of the Japan Meteorological Agency’s Okinawa office.

The storm is expected to come closest to Taiwan Friday morning local time before moving toward the China coast, south of Shanghai, Saturday evening. By the time it hits China, it could still be equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane with winds up to 160 kph (about 100 mph), which could bring significant wind damage and flooding up the Chinese coast over the weekend.

In preparation, Japan, China and Taiwan have issued severe weather warnings and are ordering residents to prepare for the typhoon.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency has issued warnings for high waves, thunderstorms, storm surges and gales across the Ryukyu Islands. The warnings are a step up from alerts — but are not yet at the level of emergency warning, the highest advisory level.

The cities of Miyakojima and Ishigaki, both in the Ryukyu island chain, have issued an evacuation advisory — classified as level 4 among the 5 levels of evacuation orders. The two cities collectively are home to about 104,000 people.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau issued sea and land warnings, asking residents to be prepared for strong winds and rain in five vulnerable areas — Keelung City, Yilan County, New Taipei City, Taipei City, and Hualien County. The Bureau also warned ships to Taiwan’s north and along the east coast to be “alert” to extreme weather.

The Taiwan Central Emergency Operation Center is also warning residents to take preventative measures such as taking down hanging objects and potted plants in homes, and avoiding the beach. Meanwhile, government authorities and agencies including the National Fire Agency have convened to discuss disaste r response.

China’s flood control body has issued a warning to seven provinces, including Fujian, Jiangsu, and Shanghai Municipality, asking local officials to prepare for the typhoon and launch emergency response systems, according to state media agency Xinhua.

Lekima is the fourth typhoon in the western Pacific this week — Typhoon Wipha brought intense gales and rain to China last weekend, Typhoon Francisco made landfall in Japan on Tuesday, and Typhoon Krosa is now forming slowly in the Pacific, expected to hit Japan sometime next week.

Asia last saw a super typhoon in September, when Super Typhoon Mangkhut wreaked havoc across China, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Millions of residents were evacuated, and at least 54 people died.

Japan and Taiwan are generally well-fortified and built to withstand storms, according to CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward. But annual typhoon seasons still bring chaos — last summer, Japan had the strongest typhoon in 25 years, leaving at least 10 people dead. Just a month afterward, Typhoon Trami swept across Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands, much like the path forecasted for Lekima in the coming days.

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