Wet, wild Typhoon Songda socks Okinawa
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Typhoon Songda slammed across Okinawa on Sunday with winds exceeding 160 mph at its center, stranding tourists and causing isolated power outages.
The storm center passed within 12 miles of Kadena Air Base at 7:30 p.m., according to the 18th Weather flight. Winds of 58 mph or greater were expected until 9 a.m. Monday.
The storm was forecast to hit the Sasebo area Tuesday evening, with Sasebo Naval Base residents being warned to expect the strongest winds in 60 years.
“The strongest winds we had on Kadena were gusts of 68 knots (78 mph),” said Tech. Sgt. Damion Madison, a forecaster with the 18th Weather Flight. “Just before landfall, the storm took a hard right and right over the neck of the island to the north, around Nago.”
The 160 mph winds were recorded near the eye wall, which just missed Kadena and central Okinawa, Madison said.
No major damage was reported by prefectural police as of Sunday evening. Five injuries were reported.
A police spokesman said a 43-year-old man in Okinawa City was injured when he was struck in the head with a large sheet of plywood as he checked for damage at a construction site Sunday morning. And a 56-year-old woman in Naha sustained broken ribs when she fell after being smacked by a door blown open by a strong gust of wind.
Damage estimates had not been made on U.S. military bases on the island Sunday night. Scattered power outages were reported in family housing areas on Kadena Air Base.
A spokesman for the Okinawa Meteorological Observatory said Typhoon Songda, the third major typhoon to pass by Okinawa in as many weeks, is one of the strongest to hit the island in the last 30 years. More than 3 inches of rain fell as of 8 p.m. Sunday, according to the 18th Weather Flight. He predicted Songda would dump about 11 inches of rain on the island.
Prefectural officials said all international and domestic flights were canceled at Naha International Airport, stranding thousands of passengers, according to airport officials. In all, about 263 flights were canceled.
Also, all bus service and the monorail in Naha were halted and the Okinawa Toll Road, Tomari Bridge in Naha, and some low-lying roads were closed.
Some 9,400 homes throughout the island prefecture were without power as of 8 p.m. Sunday as Songda, named for a river in northern Vietnam, passed through the Ryukyus.
The Okinawa Meteorological Observatory announced that the typhoon could be the strongest storm to hit Okinawa since 1972, when the prefecture was returned to Japan and began to keep its own records.
The storm caused cancellation of all Labor Day events on U.S. military bases on the island and the 48th Annual All-Island Eisa Festival in Okinawa City.
Also canceled was a planned protest rally at Okinawa International University sponsored by the city of Ginowan to protest a Marine helicopter’s crash into the campus administration building Aug. 13. A city official said the rally, expected to draw thousands of demonstrators, has been rescheduled for next Sunday.
Songda, the 18th tropical storm in the region this season, was heading due west toward Taiwan when it suddenly changed course and turned to the north as it hit the weakening path of a high-pressure ridge. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center forecast the storm would curve further to the north, coming within 20 miles of Sasebo by Tuesday afternoon, with winds weakening to about 110 mph.
Sasebo Naval Base in southwestern Kyushu announced TCCOR 3 as of 3 p.m. Sunday, just a few hours before Okinawa was in line to feel Songda’s worst.
Forecasters with Sasebo’s Naval Pacific Meteorology and Oceanography Detachment predicted this typhoon would arrive over Sasebo with a wind speed not seen in decades, much the same forecast as last week, as Typhoon Chaba approached.
“Confidence is extremely high that Typhoon Songda will pass in the vicinity of western Kyushu,” the Sasebo forecast reported. “It is too early to determine whether or not Songda will pass east or west of Sasebo, which will mean the difference of 46 mph or greater in observed winds.”
“Based on the current warning … Take this storm very seriously as it has the potential to produce the strongest winds observed in Sasebo in over 60 years,” the forecast bluntly stated.
As of Sunday night, forecasters were predicting the worst of the typhoon would pass Sasebo between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday, with sustained winds of 93 mph and gusts up to 123 mph.
After passing western Kyushu, the typhoon is predicted to continue northeast over the Sea of Japan, possibly causing heavier-than-usual wind and rain in Iwakuni. Possibly late in the week, it could pass to the north in Misawa.
The storm is predicted to lose intensity quickly as it interacts with land and cooler waters, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii.
Songda came just a week after Typhoon Chaba, which bypassed Okinawa to the north but struck the Japanese main islands, killing at least 13 people. And a week before that, Typhoon Aere passed to the south of Okinawa and slashed across northern Taiwan, where rescuers still search for people lost in floods and landslides.
Five major typhoons have battered portions of the northwest Pacific in the past month, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.
And No. 6 is on the way: Typhoon Sarika, the Cambodian word for a songbird, has formed in the Northern Mariana Islands and may approach Okinawa by the weekend.
—Chiyomi Sumida and Greg Tyler contributed to this report.