BUSAN, South Korea (AP) — Rains and winds were growing in southern South Korea Wednesday as a tropical storm drew closer to the Korean Peninsula, where it was forecast to slam into major urban areas.
Dozens of flights and ferry services were grounded and tens of thousands of fishing vessels evacuated to ports as government officials raised concerns about potentially huge damages from flooding, landslides and tidal waves triggered by the typhoon-strength winds.
The storm, named Khanun, was gaining strength as it moved slowly towards the country, South Korea’s weather agency said, with southern and eastern areas increasingly feeling its force.
Khanun is expected to reach the southern resort island of Jeju hours later and then make landfall near the mainland port of Tongyeong Thursday morning.
The agency says Khanun could have a punishing impact as it will likely slice through the center of the country over several hours, with the storm’s eye brushing the capital city of Seoul, while packing winds blowing at 90 to 154 kph (56 to 97 mph).
The storm is expected to dump 10 to 40 centimeters (4 to 16 inches) of rain in southern and central regions and as much as 60 centimeters (24 inches) in the country’s mountainous eastern regions through Friday. It will be weaker as it blows into North Korea early in the day.
The Korean Meteorological Administration measured Khanun’s maximum winds at 133 kph (82 mph) as of 7:10 p.m. Wednesday (10:10 a.m. GMT), as it passed through waters 250 kilometers (155 miles) southeast of Jeju while moving northward at a speed of 14 kph (8.6mph).
Winds were growing stronger in the country’s southern regions as of 7 p.m., blowing at a maximum 96 kph (60 mph) in waters off Tongyeong and 95 kph (59 mph) in the southwestern mainland port of Yeosu while pouring 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) of rain in some areas of Jeju.
Winds were also picking up in Busan, a major port city on the mainland’s southwest, where pedestrians struggled to hold onto their umbrellas. At the city’s beaches, workers were deflating and tying swimming tubes to trees and setting up sandbags and flood shields in front of buildings.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has called for officials to be aggressive with disaster prevention measures and evacuations while stressing the perils posed by the storm, which comes just weeks after central and southern regions were pounded by torrential rain that triggered flashfloods and landslides that killed at least 47 people.
In an emergency meeting on Wednesday, Yoon expressed concern that Khanun could inflict huge damage because it was expected to move slowly through the country while sustaining much of its strength for hours. He called for officials to “fully mobilize all available resources” to minimize injuries and deaths.
Japan measured Khanun as a severe tropical storm with sustained winds of 108 kph (67 mph) and higher gusts. Warnings for stormy conditions, potential flooding and other risks were issued for the southwestern part of Japan’s southern island of Kyushu and nearby areas.
In Kyushu’s Kagoshima prefecture, 12,000 homes were out of power on Wednesday while more than 1,800 people have taken shelters at nearby community centers, hotels, and other facilities. Seven people were hurt, two seriously, after falling or being hit by flying objects. Regional train operations were halted, as were flights and ferry services connecting the prefecture with other Japanese cities.
Up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) of rainfall is expected in Kyushu and the nearby island of Shikoku through Thursday evening, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency, which warned residents against mudslides, flooding and high winds.
As a stronger typhoon last week, Khanun lashed Okinawa and other Japanese islands, causing injuries and damage.
The Korea Airport Corporation said at least 144 flights going in and out of Jeju were canceled as of 11 a.m. as Khanun approached. Ferry services connecting the island with mainland ports were also cancelled while authorities shut down at least 39 roads, 26 riverside parking lots and 613 hiking trails nationwide as part of broader preventive measures.
Lee Hak-beom, an official from Korea Coast Guard, said all but 200 of the country’s 64,000 registered fishing vessels have evacuated to ports as of Wednesday morning.
Khanun has forced South Korea to evacuate the World Scout Jamboree that had been taking place at a coastal campsite in the southwestern county of Buan. Some 37,000 scouts had to be relocated Tuesday.
While South Korean organizers say the Jamboree will continue in the form of cultural events and activities, all outdoor activities will be banned from Thursday until the storm passes.
A K-Pop concert is planned for Seoul on Friday to go with the closing ceremony, but Lee Sang-min, South Korea’s Minister of the Interior and Safety, admitted that the storm could complicate preparations.
“If the typhoon still has an influence by then … and the conditions aren’t ideal to support the proceeding of a concert, then we will have to consider cancelling foremost,” Lee said during a briefing.
North Korean state media said Wednesday that officials were employing measures to protect factories from possible storm damage, including preparing sandbags, examining pumping systems and setting up emergency plans to evacuate important machinery and workers in case of flooding.
— Kim reported from Seoul, South Korea. AP writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to the report.