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High waters surround a scoreboard at the Ikego Housing Area near Yokosuka Naval Base, Japn, on Monday morning, Oct. 6, 2014. 

Courtesy of Jocelyn Namalich

High waters surround a scoreboard at the Ikego Housing Area near Yokosuka Naval Base, Japn, on Monday morning, Oct. 6, 2014. Courtesy of Jocelyn Namalich (Courtesy of Jocelyn Namalich)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Despite a high-wave warning, a group of six Kadena airmen were walking along Okinawa’s rocky northwestern coastline Sunday to take photos as Typhoon Phanfone churned north toward the Japanese mainland, officials say.

Four were swept away around 3:45 p.m., according to a spokesman for the Japanese Coast Guard, and only one made it back to shore alive. Another was found floating unconscious a few hours later and was pronounced dead at Hokubu Hospital in Nago. Search efforts continued Monday for the other two.

“The waves were so high and massive,” firefighter Kakuei Oshiro, who had been at the scene Sunday in Kunigami Village, told Stars and Stripes.

Early rescue efforts were hampered by rough seas, Air Force officials said. The Japanese Coast Guard and HH-60s from Kadena Air Base were continuing to search Monday.

No identities were released pending notification of families.

The typhoon drenched and battered the Tokyo area, home to several U.S. bases, which closed down Sunday and Monday until the fast-moving storm had swept by. The soccer field at the Ikego housing area near Yokosuka Naval Base was among several places that flooded, and some trains servicing the base were halted.

Workers at Yokota Air Base, northwest of Tokyo, faced cleanup of downed tree limbs and other debris.

Phanfone inflicted little damage on Okinawa, home to about 30,000 U.S. troops, officials said. Winds were relatively subdued at 35-40 knots, and the storm’s closest approach was 260 nautical miles.

The typhoon passed through Sasebo on Sunday night on its way to the Kanto Plain, causing some discomfort for residents due to the heavy winds, but there was no significant damage.

While the sun was peeking through the clouds by early afternoon, the respite may be brief. Weather forecasters were predicting that Typhoon Vongfong, which pounded Rota, just north of Guam, on Sunday, would turn north in a couple of days and head in the general direction of Okinawa and mainland Japan by the weekend.

Stars and Stripes staffer Dave Ornauer contributed to this report.

burke.matt@stripes.com

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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