Chaos reigned across Taiwan as Super Typhoon Meranti grazed the island's southern end, the most ferocious storm seen here in 21 years.
Although the typhoon did not make landfall as it barrelled towards mainland China, it left a trail of damage in many parts of the island, including capital Taipei, dampening celebrations ahead of the four-day Mid-Autumn Festival holiday starting today.
Fierce winds howled and rains lashed down, toppling trees and knocking out power and communications in over half a million homes.
A video that went viral online showed containers stacked in a pile toppling like dominos in the southern port of Kaohsiung.
The Central News Agency reported that up to 10 vessels in the port broke loose from their moorings.
Most domestic flights have been cancelled, including all from Kaohsiung airport, where international flights were also affected. High- speed rail services between Kaohsiung and Tainan were suspended.
The Central Emergency Operation Centre said five people were injured. Its spokesman Li Wei-sen told The Straits Times: "There will be some damage, but we have put in place all contingencies to ensure we can minimise casualties."
The Defence Ministry put some 33,000 soldiers on standby for disaster relief operations or evacuations.
The authorities evacuated nearly 1,500 visitors from the popular tourist spots of Green Island and Orchid Island and suspended ferry services to the two destinations.
The storm was moving east at a speed of about 17kmh and packing winds of up to 227kmh in the late afternoon, said the Central Weather Bureau. Weather forecasters expect the typhoon to dump as much as 900mm of rain on the island.
As Meranti continues to roar across the Taiwan Strait towards mainland China, offices and schools in south-eastern Pingtung county and the islands of Penghu and Kinmen will stay shut today.
It is expected to make landfall today in the southern Chinese provinces of Guangdong and Fujian, where the authorities were cancelling train services and preparing to evacuate people, Chinese state media said.
Meranti comes about two months after Typhoon Nepartak hit Taiwan, cutting power, grounding flights and forcing thousands to flee their homes across central and southern Taiwan.
Last year, Typhoon Soudelor killed at least eight people, injured over 400 others and knocked out power supplies in nearly five million households. And in 2009, Typhoon Morakot cut a swath of destruction through southern Taiwan, killing about 700 people and causing up to US$3 billion (S$4 billion) worth of damage.
Taiwanese who were heading home for the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday said they hoped the storm would not scuttle their celebrations, which involve gatherings to eat mooncakes and barbecues.
"It is the second most important holiday in which the family gets together... If the rain and winds continue, it will be a wasted long weekend," said Taipei-based accountant Clara Tseng, who returned to her family home in the eastern county of Taitung for the holiday.