TAIPEI: More than 7,000 people were evacuated in Taiwan as “super typhoon” Dujuan swirled towards the island on Monday, gathering strength as it bore down on the east coast.
Torrential rains and high winds are forecast across Taiwan from Monday afternoon, with an earlier landfall now predicted—9 am to 10 am (Manila time)—as the storm speeds up.
Crashing waves were already battering the northeastern coast by midday and fishing boats have been called back to shore.
Panicked visitors to the island’s east—many of whom had headed there for the Mid-Autumn Festival long weekend—crammed onto trains away from the coast before rail services there were suspended.
High-speed rail services in the west were also cancelled.
Authorities have warned that coastal areas could be particularly dangerous as tides are affected by the current “supermoon” – a rare astrological event in which the moon appears brighter and larger.
This is because the moon has reached its closest orbital point to Earth and therefore has a stronger gravitational pull than usual.
The storm intensified as it approached Taiwan, with gusts of 227 kilometers (141 miles) per hour.
Taiwan’s weather bureau upgraded Dujuan to a “strong typhoon” Sunday, while other regional weather bureaus, including the Hong Kong Observatory, categorize it as a “super typhoon.”
“The whole of the island should heighten vigilance against severe winds and torrential rains,” a spokesman for Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau said.
Almost 3,000 people were evacuated Sunday from Taiwan’s Green Island and Orchid Island – popular with visitors.
More than 4,000 were moved on Monday ahead of the storm.
New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu said they were from vulnerable areas, including the hot spring town of Wulai, just outside Taipei.
“In areas that could become isolated during the typhoon, sufficient rescue and communications equipment will be deployed in advance. We hope residents can cooperate with us,” said Chu.
Aboriginal mountain communities are particularly at risk during typhoons, often hit by flooding and mudslides.
Wulai was hit hard by Typhoon Soudelor in August with some residents unable to return home for weeks.
Shops and hotels have remained closed as roads and flood damage are yet to be fully repaired.
“To be honest, we all feel very depressed. Any damage may further prolong the time needed for reconstruction,” Chou Chih-kang, a Wulai neighborhood chief, told Agence France-Presse.
The weather bureau warned that the “massive amount or rubble” on mountain slopes and riverbeds since Soudelor lead to further damage.
Hundreds of passengers crammed onto high-speed trains away from the eastern cities of Hualien and Taitung before the services were suspended.
More than 24,000 troops are on standby for disaster relief and evacuations, with 100 shelters set up. Emergency response centers have been established in the north and east.
Dujuan was 110 kilometers off the coast of eastern Hualien County at 7 am (Manila time) on Monday, moving at 23 kilometers per hour.
A concert by US rock band Bon Jovi due to take place in Taipei Monday was cancelled, while 169 international and 59 domestic flights were also pulled.
Ferry services and flights to outlying islands have already been suspended.
Dujuan will pass near the Japanese island of Ishigaki as it approaches Taiwan.
Japan’s meteorological agency has warned it could trigger waves 13 meters (42 feet) high.
Around 100 domestic flights were cancelled in Japan, while 3,200 households lost power in Ishigaki and other islands, local media said.
There were no reports so far of damage or injury.
The storm is on course to hit mainland China from Tuesday, but is forecast to have weakened by then.
Typhoon Soudelor caused at least eight deaths in Taiwan last month and killed 21 people in China.