Four dead as Typhoon Soudelor batters Taiwan, China gears up

Tree branches and a fallen signboard are seen in front of a convenience store in Taipei on Aug 8, 2015.
Tree branches and a fallen signboard are seen in front of a convenience store in Taipei on Aug 8, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

TAIPEI (AFP) - Typhoon Soudelor battered Taiwan with fierce winds and rain Saturday leaving four people dead and a trail of devastation before heading for mainland China.

After making landfall on the east coast in the early hours of the morning it swept across central Taiwan ripping up trees, snapping wind turbines and triggering a landslide in one remote village in the northern region of Taoyuan.

All of the villagers had been evacuated in advance.

“Flash mudslides surged into the village. About 10 of the homes were half buried but people were evacuated last night and are in safe shelters,” a spokesman for Taoyuan fire agency told AFP.

Almost 700,000 homes remained without power across Taiwan with torrential rains leaving some areas waist-deep in water.

The typhoon was pushing through central Taiwan towards the mainland Chinese province of Fujian, where 158,000 people have already been evacuated.

Authorities said four people had died in the storm including a firefighter in southern Pintung county and a man in the coastal town of Suao who was hit by a falling billboard.

An eight-year-old girl and her mother had become the first casualties when they were swept out to sea and died as the storm approached.

Thousands have been evacuated, with 1,300 people in temporary shelters across the island. All schools and workplaces were shut on Saturday.

The typhoon made landfall in the town of Hsiulin in eastern Hualien county at 4.40am Saturday local time  before zigzagging across the centre of the island.

Tatung township in eastern Yilan saw the most rain, with more than a metre falling since Thursday.

There was widespread flooding across the county after coastal homes were hit by towering waves.

“I’ve never seen such a powerful typhoon in my 60 years of life,” one elderly woman in eastern Taitung told Formosa TV.

The strongest winds were in Suao, where gusts reached 237kmh, the weather bureau said.

At least 80 international flights have been cancelled and high-speed rail services were halted.

As the storm moved west it snapped turbines and brought down 65-metre-high towers at a wind farm in Taichung, images on the Apple Daily website showed.

More than 4,000 people were evacuated as the storm approached, including 2,000 tourists who were pulled out of the popular outlying Green Island and Orchid Island.

Many of those evacuated are from remote mountain villages in the east, where troops moved out residents Friday and helped secure their homes.

- China prepares for hit - 

China’s eastern province of Fujian evacuated at least 158,000 people and called more than 32,000 fishing boats back to harbour as the typhoon approached, according to the provincial government.

China’s National Meteorological Center (NMC) predicted Soudelor would make landfall on Saturday night in Fujian, somewhere in a band roughly between the cities of Fuzhou and Xiamen.

Weather officials warned it would bring heavy rains to China’s eastern coast.

Fujian’s provincial capital Fuzhou has cancelled 40 departing flights, as well as cross-strait ferries to Taiwan and some high-speed train service, the local government said.

Billed as the biggest typhoon of the year earlier in the week, Soudelor has since weakened.

Although authorities had warned it might strengthen before it hit Taiwan, wind speeds near its centre remained at 173kmh as it made landfall.

On Saturday morning, wind speeds near the centre of the storm had slowed to 162 kilometres per hour.

“Over the past three hours its intensity has slightly reduced,” the Central Weather Bureau said.

Soudelor – named after a legendary Micronesian chief – is currently described as a “moderate typhoon” by the weather bureau – the second highest category.

The young girl and her mother killed as the storm bore down on the island were swept out to sea in Yilan county on Thursday as seas swelled.

The dead girl’s twin was also missing in the same incident, while another nine-year-old girl was injured but survived.

Officials said the search for the missing girl would continue Saturday.

The defence ministry had readied 100 shelters that could accommodate more than 45,000 people while around 35,000 soldiers were on standby for disaster relief.