TAIPEI: Super Typhoon Nepartak barrelled toward Taiwan early Friday, forcing schools and offices to shut and the cancellation of more than 100 flights as residents waited for season’s the first major storm to hit.
Soldiers went door-to-door in remote mountainous areas in eastern Hualien and Taitung counties, urging villagers to leave their homes for shelters, while supermarket shelves in Taipei were left bare by residents stockpiling goods.
Uniformed soldiers were also seen on beaches filing sandbags to be sent to low-lying areas in anticipation of the storm, which forced hundreds to evacuated and is expected to make landfall around 5:00 am Friday (2100 GMT Thursday), according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau.
One man drowned off a beach in Hualien county, the coastguard said, but did not confirm if his death was weather-related.
The powerful typhoon was packing gusts of up to 245 kilometres an hour (152 miles an hour) as it rumbled towards the island’s east coast.
At 1400 GMT, the typhoon was 160 kilometres north-northwest from the southern Kaohsiung city.
“As the typhoon has been slowing its pace, we now forecast it could make landfall some time between 5:00 am and 6:00 am Friday,” an official at the weather bureau told AFP.
The storm is expected to dump torrential rain across the whole island with mountainous areas forecast to get up to 900 millimetres (36 inches) in total, potentially triggering landslides.
Residents should “keep an eye out on possible landslides, falling rocks, flash water flooding,” the bureau warned in a statement.
All fishing boats have been called back to port as waves — some as high as 14 metres (46 feet), according to reports — battered the eastern coast.
The government said financial markets, schools and offices would all be closed Friday.
More than 1,300 people were evacuated from their homes in eastern and southern areas prone to landslides, according to the Central Emergency Operation Centre.
Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan said his office had “prepared for the worst”, and had deployed nearly 4,400 soldiers around the island along with hundreds of vehicles, including 14 amphibious vehicles.
More than 35,000 soldiers are also on standby to help with evacuations and disaster relief, while shelters have been set up across the island.
Most domestic flights were grounded while 106 international flights 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 on Thursday but is expected to be closed for most of Friday.
The popular tourist spots of Green Island and Orchid Island, which began evacuating thousands of visitors on Tuesday, closed schools and offices on Thursday.
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 14 kilometres an hour Thursday evening, slightly slower than earlier in the day.
The storm is forecast to hit southern China after battering Taiwan.
Last year Super typhoon Dujuan killed three people and left more than 300 injured in Taiwan, 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.