Four dead as Typhoon Soudelor batters Taiwan
Rivers broke their banks under torrential rain and towering waves pounded the coastline as the storm left a trail of destruction, with 1.5 million homes without power Saturday afternoon.
One mountain village in the northern region of Taoyuan was left almost submerged in mud.
“Flash mudslides surged into the village. About 10 of the homes were half buried but people were evacuated last night and are in safe shelters,” a spokesman for Taoyuan fire agency told AFP.
Dramatic images showed an elderly man who was buried up to his waist in another mudslide being hauled out by emergency workers in the picturesque hot spring area of Wulai, just outside the capital Taipei.
Media reports said that he had died, but authorities were unable to immediately confirm his death.
Although the centre of the typhoon had left Taiwan, as the storm pushed towards the eastern mainland Chinese province of Fujian, heavy rains were still forecast for the south of the island.
At least 250,000 people have already been evacuated from Fujian and the neighbouring province of Zhejiang ahead of the typhoon’s arrival.
Taiwan’s authorities said four people had died in the storm including a firefighter in southern Pintung county and a man in the coastal town of Suao who was hit by a falling billboard.
An eight-year-old girl and her mother had become the first casualties when they were swept out to sea and died as the storm approached on Thursday.
The dead girl’s twin was also missing in the same incident, while another nine-year-old girl was injured but survived.
There were also unconfirmed reports of another death in southern Kaohsiung, where a man was said to have been hit by a tree.
A total of four people were missing and more than 60 injured, the Central Emergency Operation Center said.
Thousands have been evacuated with more than 4,000 in temporary shelters across the island. All schools and workplaces were shut on Saturday.
Tatung township in eastern Yilan saw the most rain, with more than a metre (40 inches) falling since Thursday.
“I’ve never seen such a powerful typhoon in my 60 years of life,” one elderly woman in eastern Taitung told Formosa TV.
– China prepares for hit –
The strongest winds were in Suao, where gusts reached 237 kilometres per hour (147 miles per hour), the weather bureau said.
More than 170 international flights were cancelled and high-speed rail services halted.
As the storm moved west it snapped turbines and brought down 65-metre (215-foot) towers at a wind farm in Taichung, images on the Apple Daily website showed.
Almost 9,000 people were evacuated, many from remote mountain villages in the east.
A further 2,000 tourists were also transferred from outlying islands.
In China’s Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, at least 250,000 people had been evacuated and nearly 60,000 fishing boats ordered to return to port, according to local officials.
The National Meteorological Center (NMC) predicted Soudelor would make landfall on Saturday evening in Fujian, somewhere in a band roughly between the cities of Fuzhou and Xiamen.
Weather officials warned it would bring heavy rains to China’s eastern coast.
Fujian’s provincial capital Fuzhou has cancelled 40 departing flights, as well as cross-strait ferries to Taiwan and some high-speed train service, the local government said.
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 Taiwan, wind speeds near its centre remained at 173 kilometres per hour (108 mph) as it made landfall in Taiwan.
On Saturday afternoon, wind speeds near the centre of the storm had slowed to 144 kilometres per hour.
Soudelor — named after a legendary Micronesian chief — is still described as a “moderate typhoon” by Taiwan’s weather bureau — the second highest category.
“It is expected to keep losing force as its radius shrinks,” the bureau said.