Three U.S. airmen swept out to sea in Japan
(CNN) — As a strong typhoon was bearing down on Japan, three U.S. airmen were washed out to sea Sunday.
They had been on the northwest coast of Okinawa, Kadena Air Base said.
“The Japanese Coast Guard, and two HH-60 helicopters from the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, have responded and operations are ongoing,” the base said in a statement.
The U.S. military calls Kadena its “hub of airpower in the Pacific.”
Typhoon Phanfone churned close to Japan’s southern tip on Sunday afternoon with sustained winds as powerful as 167 kph (104 mph). It began to turn to the northeast and is expected to hug the country’s southeastern coastline over the following hours.
“We’re talking torrential rain and also significant wind,” said Ivan Cabrera, a meteorologist with CNN International.
Phanfone is forecast to weaken before it nears Tokyo early Monday, according to the U.S. government’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
The storm could make landfall on a peninsula south of the city of Osaka and again farther east, near the city of Hamamatsu.
NASA’s Earth Observatory tweeted a photo Saturday showing the large typhoon’s bands swirling out from its center.
The storm’s powerful winds could bring storm surges to bays along the southeastern coast, including Tokyo Bay, Cabrera said.
Mudslides are also a risk in mountainous regions, with the typhoon expected to dump 100 millimeters to 200 millimeters (4 to 8 inches) of rain on some areas.
Officials have expressed particular concern about the situation at Mount Ontake, a volcano that suddenly erupted last weekend, killing dozens of hikers.
The typhoon has caused search efforts to be suspended for about a dozen people who remain missing on the volcano, the Japanese news agency Kyodo reported.
The high accumulation of volcanic ash on the mountain, combined with the forecast of heavy rain, increases the danger of mudslides.