Neoguri Weakens to Tropical Storm as Thousands Flee

Typhoon Neoguri weakened to a tropical storm as it moved toward Japan’s southernmost main island of Kyushu after prompting the evacuation of almost 90,000 people amid threats of floods and landslides.

Neoguri was about 230 kilometers (143 miles) southwest of Sasebo, on Kyushu, with top winds reaching 111 kilometers (69 miles) per hour, the U.S. Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center said in an advisory at 11 a.m. New York time. It would be classified as a tropical storm on the U.S. Saffir-Simpson scale.

“The weakening trend is expected to continue as sea surface temperatures decrease,” the center in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, said in a forecast analysis.

Neogrui, which was moving east-northeast as of 11:45 p.m. local time, left 20 injured yesterday in Okinawa, where it grounded flights and prompted evacuations. As it nears Kyusho, it will encounter more wind shear that will tear at its structure, and the island’s mountains will further weaken it.

Parts of Kyushu will probably be hit with violent winds, swollen rivers and waves up to 10 meters high, the Japan Meteorological Agency reported on its website. While rain will generally amount to 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) to 3 inches, some areas may get as much as 5 inches, leading to “localized flooding in higher terrain,” said Commodity Weather Group LLC.

“Winds will be down to 35 knots when it passes Tokyo about 24 hours later,” David Streit, a forecaster at Commodity Weather in Bethesda, Maryland, said in an e-mail received at 6:23 p.m. Tokyo time.

Evacuations Urged

Officials in the Kyushu city of Amakusa urged 87,327 residents today to take shelter in gyms and other centers as the storm threatened homes, public broadcaster NHK reported on its website.

Companies with Kyushu factories, including Nissan Motor Co. and Toshiba Corp., were monitoring the storm’s approach.

“We instructed factories and offices in Japan to take measures for safety against the approaching typhoon,” said Yu Takase, a spokeswoman for Toshiba, which has a chip factory in Kyushu’s Oita prefecture. “Right now, our factories are operating as usual.”

Nissan and Toyota Motor Corp. planned to decide on any countermeasures by this evening, the companies said.

Toyota and Nissan built 1.32 million vehicles at their four plants in Kyushu last year, Satomi Hamada, a production analyst for IHS Automotive, wrote in an e-mail.

Nissan’s two plants on the island accounted for 65 percent of the company’s domestic production last year, while Toyota’s portion was 18 percent.

Eastward Turn

The storm was expected to pivot east as Neoguri interacts with a low-pressure system over Manchuria, said Jim Andrews, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. The low has created a vigorous westerly jet stream that will push the storm into Kyushu.’

Andrews said the remnants of Neoguri may hug Japan’s east coast. He said Tokyo itself will probably be spared the worst because it is sheltered by mountains to the south.

Japan Airlines Co. and its affiliates grounded 11 flights to and from southern Japan earlier, the company said in an e-mailed statement. The All Nippon Airways Co. group canceled 29 flights, affecting 2,000 passengers.

Refinery Halted

Nansei Sekiyu KK, a unit of Brazil’s Petroleo Brasileiro SA, halted refining and shipping operations at its 100,000 barrel-a-day Nishihara plant in Okinawa, the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Marine operations at JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp.’s 270,000-barrel-a-day Negishi refinery near Tokyo remained suspended because of high waves caused by the storm’s approach, according to a company official who asked not to be identified because of internal policy.

One serious injury in Okinawa was attributed to the storm, while 19 people suffered slight injuries, according to a statement from Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency, which gave no other details.

The Mainichi newspaper reported that a man died yesterday after the fishing boat he was aboard capsized off the island of Shikoku farther northeast from the storm’s center, where the weather agency has a high-wave advisory in effect.

Japan has averaged more than 11 typhoons per year over a 30-year period ending in 2010, most of them occurring between July and October, according to the weather agency’s website.

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