TAIPEI • An eight-year-old girl and her mother died after being swept out to sea off Taiwan as Typhoon Soudelor bore down on the island, forcing thousands to flee, officials said yesterday.
Troops evacuated villagers from remote mountain regions in the east of the island and helped secure their homes as rain and surging waves battered the coast.
More than 2,000 people, many of them tourists, had already been evacuated from outlying islands.
The typhoon was set to make a direct hit on the east coast in the early hours today before moving across central Taiwan to Fujian province in mainland China.
Earlier billed as the biggest typhoon of the year, Soudelor has since weakened but the authorities warned it may strengthen again.
The young girl and her mother became the first casualties of the impending storm after they were swept out to sea in Taiwan's eastern Yilan county on Thursday. The girl's twin is missing in the same incident, while a nine-year-old girl survived, with injuries.
"The group went to the beach but were swept out to sea by strong waves," said a spokesman for the fire bureau in Yilan County. "It was a mother, her twins, and a friend's daughter. The adult and her daughter had already no heartbeat when brought to shore. The other child was conscious. The search for the missing girl (has) stopped for now... but will continue."
Troops helped move residents from aboriginal villages in the eastern counties Yilan and Hualien yesterday. They also reinforced the houses, which will bear the brunt of the storm.
Much of the island was lashed by torrential rain and by yesterday afternoon, 140mm had fallen near Taoyuan City in the north-west.
Offices and schools were shut yesterday, mainly in the north and east. More than 40 international flights out of Taiwan were cancelled and ferry services to outlying islands were suspended.
Packing maximum wind speeds of 173kmh near its centre, Soudelor was 280km south-east of Hualien county yesterday evening.
Currently described as a "moderate typhoon" by Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau - the second highest category - it could be raised to the top category of "severe typhoon" if wind speeds near the centre reach more than 184 kmh.
Soudelor had been classed a "super typhoon" by the Hong Kong Observatory earlier in the week as it reached maximum sustained wind speeds of 230kmh. The super typhoon status is given when wind speeds exceed 185kmh.
Both land and sea warnings have been raised, while "torrential rain" was forecast for the capital Taipei and 14 other counties, a category which means at least 350mm will fall within 24 hours.
"Although it won't have the same effect of Typhoon Morakot, this typhoon is still very well developed," Taiwan's Premier Mao Chi-kuo said on Thursday, referring to the 2009 storm that killed 600 people.