High alert in Taiwan as severe typhoon approaches

A video screen showing Typhoon Nepartak heading towards Taiwan. The island is beefing up its defence ahead of the storm, which is expected to hit late tonight or early tomorrow morning.
A video screen showing Typhoon Nepartak heading towards Taiwan. The island is beefing up its defence ahead of the storm, which is expected to hit late tonight or early tomorrow morning.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Taiwan is bracing itself for the arrival of Typhoon Nepartak, with emergency operations teams battening down the hatches and thousands of tourists evacuated from islands.

Classified by Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau as a "severe typhoon", the highest category of storms, Nepartak is expected to hit the eastern part of the island late tonight or early tomorrow morning.

Packing winds of up to 263kmh, the typhoon is gaining strength as it whirls in the north-west Pacific Ocean, threatening to dump torrential rain that could unleash deadly landslides on Taiwan's east coast.

Since Tuesday, more than 3,000 visitors have been evacuated from the popular tourist spots of Green Island and Orchid Island off south- eastern Taitung county. The Defence Ministry has also put 35,000 soldiers on stand-by.

Military troops are on alert to evacuate residents from aboriginal villages in the mountainous regions of Yilan and Hualien to auditoriums, schools and hotels as early as today, said Taiwan's Central Emergency Operation Centre spokesman Li Wei-sen.

"The typhoon is approaching very fast and we are waiting for the right moment to evacuate," he told The Straits Times, adding that the authorities are mindful of Typhoon Soudelor's fury last year.

That storm killed at least eight people, injured over 400 others and knocked out power supplies in nearly five million households.

Torrential rain has been forecast for the capital Taipei and 14 counties by the weather bureau.

Even as land and sea warnings have been raised, Taipei experienced clear, sunny skies yesterday. The city government said schools and offices will remain open today, although most schools are closed for the summer vacation.

The Central News Agency reported that ferry companies have suspended passenger services to and from Orchid Island till Saturday.

Premier Lin Chuan said yesterday that emergency management teams are keeping an eye on the situation and "are prepared for the worst".

He added that the government will do its best "to minimise any loss or damage".

As the storm looks set to bear down on Taiwan, Transport Minister Hochen Tan gave the assurance that all measures have been taken to ensure Taoyuan Airport will not be flooded. Last month, the terminals were submerged in knee-high water after a thunderstorm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2016, with the headline 'High alert in Taiwan as severe typhoon approaches'. Print Edition | Subscribe