TOKYO - Lekima briefly strengthened into a super typhoon on Thursday as it passed across the southern Ryuku islands of Japan, before weakening on its trajectory toward China.
With powerful winds of 220 kph (134 mph), the storm is no longer "super" but it is still very strong -- the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane.
The worst conditions so far have been felt in the southern Ryukyu Islands of Japan, with the eye of the storm passing very close to Miyakojima, a city of about 54,000 people. The chain of islands includes Okinawa, with a population of 1.4 million people.
The storm has now begun to pull away from the islands, which saw over 200 millimeters of rain (nearly eight inches) and counting. Winds have gusted as high as 168 kph (104 mph).
Ahead of the storm's arrival in Japan, Mitsugu Noguchi of the Japan Meteorological Agency's Okinawa office had warned that a "serious natural disaster is possibly to take place."
Next, Taiwan is expected to be brushed by the storm over the next 12 hours but will mostly spared its full force. Winds will likely remain below typhoon strength. Heavy rain will be the biggest threat. The mountainous terrain may see several hundred millimeters (more than 12 inches).
The storm is expected to weaken further as it approaches China, but should still pack winds of 160 kph -- the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane. Landfall in China will occur south of Shanghai in Zhejiang Province on Saturday morning.
The storm will continue to move northward and impact much of eastern China, including Shanghai, dropping up to 200 millimeters (8 inches) of rain. Flooding across eastern China is expected be a problem through the weekend.
In preparation of the storm, Japan, China and Taiwan issued severe weather warnings and ordered residents to prepare for the typhoon.
Japan's Meteorological Agency issued warnings for high waves, thunderstorms, storm surges and gales across the Ryukyu Islands.
The cities of Miyakojima and Ishigaki, both in the Ryukyu island chain, issued an evacuation advisory -- classified as level 4 among the 5 levels of evacuation orders. The two cities collectively are home to about 104,000 people.
Meanwhile, Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau issued sea and land warnings, asking residents to be prepared for strong winds and rain in five vulnerable areas -- Keelung City, Yilan County, New Taipei City, Taipei City, and Hualien County. The Bureau also warned ships to Taiwan's north and along the east coast to be "alert" to extreme weather.
The Taiwan Central Emergency Operation Center also warned residents to take preventative measures such as taking down hanging objects and potted plants in homes, and avoiding the beach. Meanwhile, government authorities and agencies including the National Fire Agency have convened to discuss disaster response.
China's flood control body issued a warning to seven provinces, including Fujian, Jiangsu, and Shanghai Municipality, asking local officials to prepare for the typhoon and launch emergency response systems, according to state media agency Xinhua.
Lekima was the fourth typhoon in the western Pacific this week -- Typhoon Wipha brought intense gales and rain to China last weekend, Typhoon Francisco made landfall in Japan on Tuesday, and Typhoon Krosa has now formed in the Pacific. The slow-moving Krosa has winds of 185 kph (115 mph) is expected to hit mainland Japan by the middle of next week.
Asia last saw a super typhoon in September, when Super Typhoon Mangkhut wreaked havoc across China, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Millions of residents were evacuated, and at least 54 people died.
Japan and Taiwan are generally well-fortified and built to withstand storms. But annual typhoon seasons still bring chaos -- last summer, Japan had the strongest typhoon in 25 years, leaving at least 10 people dead. Just a month afterward, Typhoon Trami swept across Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands, much like the path forecast for Lekima in the coming days.
CNN's Chie Kobayashi and Haley Brink contributed to this report.
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