Powerful typhoon lashes Taiwan

Taiwan was pounded by winds of more than 200 kilometres an hour on Sunday as China evacuated 150,000 people, issuing an alert over what it said could be the fiercest typhoon of the year to hit the region.

Typhoon Fanapi made landfall at 8:40 am (0040 GMT) near Taiwan’s east coast city of Hualien, packing gusts of up to 220 kilometres (137 miles) an hour after picking up speed, the Central Weather Bureau said.

“Winds are especially strong and rains particularly severe in the Hualien area,” a spokesman for the bureau said.

TV footage from Hualien showed branches ripped off trees and a lorry upturned while driving along an exposed stretch of road.

In the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, trees were uprooted in the southern city of Kaohsiung while TV images showed a traffic light toppled by the powerful gusts.

Memories are still raw in Taiwan of the onslaught of Typhoon Morakot in 2009, which left more than 700 people dead or missing in one of the island’s worst natural disasters.

After Morakot there was a storm of criticism of President Ma Ying-jeou and his administration for reacting too late.

Authorities appear determined to show a more proactive approach, with Ma presiding over a video conference Saturday with local officials, urging measures to prevent major damage from the typhoon, whose name means “small atoll islands” in Micronesian.

Before the typhoon arrived Taiwan was hit by heavy rain, with the east coast county of Ilan reporting 267 millimetres (10.5 inches) falling during Saturday and the early hours of Sunday, the weather bureau said.

A number of train services have been cancelled while all domestic and five international flights were called off.

The National Fire Agency said more than 6,000 people had been evacuated from mountainous areas.

Taiwan’s defence forces deployed armoured personnel carriers for duty in case of floods and other emergencies, television footage showed.

Fishermen sought safety in ports along the coast, tying their vessels together with heavy ropes to try to withstand powerful winds and waves.

Taiwan’s population is accustomed to several typhoons each year, and many people went to shops and open-air markets Saturday to buy enough food for at least a couple of days.

In southeastern China, authorities were on high alert after the national meteorological centre warned that Fanapi was expected to hit the coastal areas of Guangdong and Fujian provinces Monday after its passage through Taiwan.

In Fujian, more than 55,000 fishing boats had come back to port in anticipation of the dangerous winds and nearly 150,000 people had been moved to safety, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Authorities there warned Fanapi could be the fiercest typhoon to hit so far this year, the report said.