TAIPEI: Typhoon Soudelor made landfall in Taiwan in the early hours of Saturday, ripping up trees and tearing down billboards as it battered the island with fierce winds and torrential rain.
An eight-year-old girl and her mother had already become the first casualties after they were swept out to sea and died as the storm approached.
There were no immediate confirmed reports of further deaths early Saturday but local media said a man had been killed overnight by a falling commercial sign in the coastal town of Suao.
Thousands have been evacuated, with 1,300 now in 43 temporary shelters across the island. All schools and workplaces will shut Saturday as the storm passes across central Taiwan.
The typhoon made landfall in the town of Hsiulin in eastern Hualien county at 4:40 am Saturday (2040 GMT Friday).
In nearby Hualien city trees were uprooted and a giant billboard ripped from a building while motorbikes were scattered across the streets, thrown around by the wind.
“(It is) moving northwest, bringing heavy rains and fierce winds to the whole island, although gradually losing its strength,” the Central Weather Bureau said Saturday.
By Saturday morning Tatung Township in eastern Yilan had seen the most rain, with more than a metre (40 inches) falling since Thursday.
The strongest winds were in Suao, where gusts reached 237 kilometres per hour (147 miles per hour), the weather bureau said.
Local media reported that more than 60,000 homes were without electricity.
At least 80 international flights have been cancelled and high-speed rail services were halted.
A total of more than 4,000 people have been evacuated, including 2,000 tourists who were pulled out of the popular outlying Green Island and Orchid Island.
Many of those evacuated are from remote mountain villages in the east, where troops moved out residents Friday and helped secure their homes.
Billed as the biggest typhoon of the year earlier in the week, Soudelor has since weakened.
Although authorities had warned it might strengthen before it hit the island, wind speeds near its centre remained at 173 kilometres per hour (108 mph) as it made landfall.
Soudelor — named after a legendary Micronesian chief — is currently described as a “moderate typhoon” by the weather bureau — the second highest category.
Hong Kong Observatory had rated Soudelor as a “super typhoon” earlier in the week as it reached maximum sustained wind speeds of 230 kilometres an hour.
As the storm approached towering waves pounded the east coast, where the young girl and her mother were swept out to sea in Yilan county on Thursday.
The dead girl’s twin was also missing in the same incident, while another nine-year-old girl was injured but survived.
“The group went to the beach but were swept out to sea by strong waves,” a spokesman for the fire bureau in Yilan County told Agence France-Presse.
“It was a mother, her twins, and a friend’s daughter. The adult and her daughter had already lost their heartbeat when brought to shore. The other child was conscious.”
He added that the search for the missing girl would continue Saturday.
The defence ministry said it had readied 100 shelters that could accommodate more than 45,000 people while around 35,000 soldiers were on standby for disaster relief.
More than 32,000 fishing boats returned to port Friday in China’s densely populated Fujian province, authorities said, after they were ordered back ahead of Soudelor’s forecast landfall on Saturday night.
The storm is expected to bring heavy downpours and strong winds, China’s National Meteorological Centre said in a statement.
Residents would be evacuated according to the weather conditions, the provincial flood control office added.