Taiwan has evacuated more than 3,000 people as Typhoon Tembin bore down, threatening powerful winds and torrential rains that authorities warned could trigger landslides.
About 50,000 soldiers were on standby on the island, where memories are still raw from Typhoon Morakot, which killed about 600 people in August 2009, most of them buried in huge landslides in the south.
Authorities moved swiftly to prevent a repeat, deploying about 500 troops to help in evacuations in eastern Taiwan before the storm, described as a “severe typhoon” by the Hong Kong Observatory, hits.
More than 3,000 people, nearly half of them from Hualien county, had been evacuated by noon (0400 GMT), according to the Central Emergency Operation Centre.
Young conscripts, many wearing facial masks against the sandstorms whipped up by the gusting winds, went from house to house and helped elderly residents, with people willingly obeying the order to move to safer ground.
Tembin could make landfall in Taitung in eastern Taiwan on Friday although its exact path is affected by Bolaven, another typhoon around 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) east of Taiwan, according to the Central Weather Bureau.
The bureau listed Tembin as a mid-level typhoon and warned that it would bring torrential rains and trigger mudslides in the east, an area badly hit earlier this month by Typhoon Saola, which killed six people.
“The impact will be felt from tonight, especially in the eastern area,” Lin Ping-yu, an official from the bureau, told AFP.
As of 12:15 pm (0415 GMT), Tembin was 230 kilometres east of Taitung. With a radius of 180 kilometres and packing winds gusting at up to 144 kilometres an hour, it was moving west at six kilometres per hour.
Near Hualien city in eastern Taiwan the sun was shining early Thursday with gusts heralding Tembin but the weather changed gradually and the area was hit by intermittent rain, as a precursor of the typhoon still lingering in the Pacific Ocean.
A total of 103 domestic and 13 international flights were cancelled, according to the transport ministry.
Two passenger cruise ships scrapped services to Japan’s Okinawa and Ishigaki, an outlying island off Okinawa.
All shipping between Taiwan and its offshore islands was suspended, the emergency operation centre said.