TAIPEI: Taiwan cancelled more than 100 flights and shut schools and offices on Thursday 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 kilometers 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 Friday, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau.
The storm is expected to dump torrential rain on the whole island with mountainous areas forecast to be deluged with up to 600 millimeters (24 inches), potentially triggering landslides that have in the past claimed hundreds of lives.
All fishing boats have been called back to port as waves—as high as 14 meters (46 feet), according to TV reports—batter the eastern coast.
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 Center.
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 on Thursday 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 on Thursday. 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.
“Its storm circle is gradually nearing southeastern Taiwan and the Hengchun Peninsula, posing a threat to all regions and Penghu,” it added.
The storm had a radius of 200 kilometers and was moving at a speed of 13 kilometers an hour Thursday evening, slightly slower than earlier in the day.
The storm is forecast to hit southern China as a typhoon 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.