July 7, 2016 – Taiwan cancelled more than 100 flights and shut schools and offices today as the island braced for a direct hit from Super Typhoon Nepartak, the first major tropical storm of the season.
The typhoon was packing gusts of up to 245 kilometres an hour (152 miles an hour) as it rumbled towards the eastern counties of Hualien and Taitung, where it is expected to make landfall early tomorrow, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau.
“As the typhoon has been slowing its pace, we now forecast it could make landfall sometime between 5:00 am and 6:00 am Friday,” an official at the bureau said.
The storm is expected to dump torrential rain on the whole island with mountainous areas forecast to be deluged with up to 900 millimetres (36 inches), potentially triggering landslides that have in the past claimed hundreds of lives.
Residents should “keep an eye out on possible landslides, falling rocks, flash water flooding,” the bureau said in a statement.
All fishing boats have been called back to port as waves – as high as 14 metres (46 feet), according to TV reports – batter the eastern coast.
President Tsai Ing-wen said preventative evacuation would play a significant role in managing fall-out from the storm, while defence minister Feng Shih-kuan said his ministry has “prepared for the worst”.
The ministry said it had deployed nearly 2,500 soldiers around the island and hundreds of vehicles, among them 14 amphibious vehicles.
More than 35,000 soldiers are on standby to help with evacuations and disaster relief, while shelters have been set up across the island.
About 200 people have been moved from their homes in Hualien and the southern cities of Tainan and Kaohsiung, according to the Central Emergency Operation Centre.
Taitung is also expected to start evacuating residents in villages and settlements most at risk of mudslides.
Most domestic flights were grounded while 106 international flights would be affected, Taipei’s two main airports said.
Dozens of ferries have also been cancelled while crowds packed onto trains along the east coast, before the railway is shut later Thursday evening.
The high-speed rail was running as normal today but is expected to close for most of Friday.
The popular tourist spots of Green Island and Orchid Island, which have already evacuated thousands of visitors since Tuesday, closed schools and offices earlier today. Three other counties also announced closures.
A number of outdoor events across Taiwan, including a hot air balloon festival in Taitung, have been cancelled or postponed.
Conditions are expected to deteriorate significantly before the storm hits, the weather bureau said.
The storm had a radius of 200 kilometres and was moving at a speed of 13 kilometres an hour Thursday evening, slightly slower than earlier in the day.
The storm is forecast to hit southern China after battering Taiwan.
Super typhoon Dujuan killed three people and left more than 300 injured in Taiwan last year, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
In 2009, Typhoon Morakot devastated the island, killing more than 600 people, most of them buried in huge landslides in the south.