Flights cancelled, offices and schools closed as Taiwan braces for its first typhoon of the year

Pedestrians trying to hold steady their umbrellas as Typhoon Nesat brought sporadic shower and strong winds to Taipei, Taiwan, on July 28, 2017.
Pedestrians trying to hold steady their umbrellas as Typhoon Nesat brought sporadic shower and strong winds to Taipei, Taiwan, on July 28, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

TAIPEI - Taiwan was bracing itself Saturday (July 29) for the arrival of its first typhoon of the year, with emergency operations teams battening down the hatches and hundreds of flights, including several bound for or departing from Singapore, were delayed or cancelled.

Schools and offices were shut down as Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau upgraded tropical storm Nesat to a typhoon. Nesat is expected to hit the eastern part of the island late tonight, before cross the Central Mountain Range and entering the Taiwan Strait on Sunday (July 30).

As of 1 pm Saturday, Nesat was centred some 170 kilometers south-east of Hualien, moving at a speed of 19 km per hour in a northwesterly direction, data from the Central Weather Bureau showed according to Central News Agency.

It is packing maximum sustained winds of 137 kph, with gusts reaching 173 kph, threatening to dump heavy rain that could trigger landslides on Taiwan's east coast.

The Central Emergency Operation Centre has issued more than 200 landslide alerts for six counties and a city, including Kaohsiung, Chiayi, Pingtung and Hualien.

At least 280 flights, including 114 international flights, were cancelled or delayed Saturday, according to the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

At least five flights operated by Singapore Airlines bound for or departing Singapore for Taipei on Saturday were delayed, based on information on the Taiyuan International Airport's website. A Scoot flight scheduled for early Sunday morning has also been retimed.

Two flights from Singapore bound for Taiwan's second-largest city of Kaohsiung, operated by China Airlines and KLM respectively, have also been postponed to Sunday.

Most trains running along the east coast were also suspended Saturday. 

Several major events were cancelled, including the annual Ho-Hai-Yan Gongliao Rock Festival in New Taipei City, and the Taiwan International Balloon Festival in Taitung.

President Tsai Ing-wen inspected the Central Operation Centre on Saturday. More than 36,000 soldiers are on standby to help with disaster relief.

Taiwan's government has stepped up preventive measures against tropical storms since typhoon Morakot left more than 400 people dead in its wake in 2009.

The island was pounded by heavy rains just last month, and at least one person died in floods in the north of the island after 600 millimetres of rain fell in under 11 hours in some areas.