TOKYO - Japan braced Tuesday for one of its worst storms in years as typhoon Neoguri barrelled towards the southern Okinawa island chain, with the national weather agency issuing its highest alert and nearly half-a-million people urged to take shelter.
The top-level warning means a threat to life, as well as the risk of storm surges, landslides and massive damage from the typhoon packing gusts of up to 250 kilometres (155 miles) per hour.
The Japan Meteorological Agency late Monday issued the alert for Okinawa's main island, home to around 1.2 million people, as well as the outlying Miyako islands.
Waves could reach as high as 14 metres (45 feet), a weather agency official said, as schools across the sprawling archipelago south of Japan's main islands were closed while air and sea traffic services ground to a halt.
About 6,500 Okinawan households had no power early Tuesday.
The storm comes less than a year after typhoon Haiyan, packing the strongest winds ever recorded on land, killed or left missing more than 7,300 people as it tore across the central Philippines in November.
"There are fears about violent winds, high waves and tides and torrential rain that we have never experienced before," Satoshi Ebihara, the Japanese weather agency's chief forecaster, told an evening news conference Monday.
"We are in an abnormal situation where serious danger is imminent," he said, advising Okinawans to stay in secure buildings or seek out a safer location if they fear their homes could not withstand the powerful storm.