TAIPEI • Taiwan began evacuating residents in mountainous areas yesterday as Typhoon Maria churned towards the island bringing torrential rains and powerful winds. Offices and schools were closed and flights were cancelled.
Maria was 310km east of the north-eastern coastal town of Yilan packing gusts of up to 173kmh as of 5pm, the weather bureau said.
Its impact was expected to be strongest from late yesterday to early today although it has weakened slightly in the past few hours, with up to 500mm of rainfall forecast for some areas, the bureau added.
The authorities said nearly 700 people had been evacuated as of yesterday evening. Local television showed soldiers going door to door in a mountainside village in Yilan to help evacuate residents. Officials have warned of possible floods and mudslides.
"I have ordered the troops to stand by for relevant disaster prevention and relief... I also want to urge the public again to make typhoon preparations as early as possible," President Tsai Ing-wen said in a post on her Facebook page.
Premier Lai Ching-te also warned the local authorities and the public to "remain vigilant" for the first typhoon of the season in Taiwan. He urged people to stay indoors and cooperate with the government's disaster prevention plans.
Offices and schools closed in eight cities and counties, including Taipei, yesterday afternoon as heavy rains and winds started to pound parts of the island.
Maria also disrupted air and land traffic, as a total of 145 international flights and 76 flights within Taiwan were cancelled, according to the Central Emergency Operation Centre.
China Airlines postponed four flights between Taoyuan and Okinawa from yesterday to today, while Tigerair Taiwan cancelled flights between Taiwan and Japan, Macau and Bangkok.
Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific said it had cancelled more than a dozen flights between Hong Kong and Taipei, as well as from Hong Kong to Okinawa yesterday and today.
Fishermen in coastal areas brought in their catch and secured their boats ahead of the storm, while farmers rushed to harvest fruit and vegetables. Ferry services to outlying islands were cancelled.
Taiwan is frequently hit by typhoons in the summer. Last year, more than 100 people were injured when Typhoon Nesat battered the island, causing flooding and widespread power outages.
Morakot was the deadliest typhoon to hit the island in recorded history, killing nearly 700 people, most of them in landslides, in 2009.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS