AFP – Parts of Taiwan were brought to a standstill on Wednesday as super typhoon Meranti skirted past the island’s southern tip, bringing the strongest winds in 21 years and disrupting traffic ahead of a major holiday.
Although typhoon Meranti did not make landfall, the storm brought violent winds and torrential rain to eastern and southern Taiwan.
At 1000 GMT, Meranti was 60 km south-southwest of the offshore Penghu island, packing gusts of up to 227 km per hour.
Hengchun’s observation station recorded the strongest winds in its 120 year history earlier Wednesday, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau.
“It is the strongest typhoon to hit Taiwan in 21 years in terms of maximum sustained wind near the center,” said forecaster Hsieh Pei-yun.
Southern Kenting, a tourist destination known for its white-sand beaches, was battered by winds and floods.
Residents in a fishing port in southern Taitung county woke up to find that a small lighthouse had disappeared and believed that powerful winds blew it off into the sea, as waves almost 10 meters high lashed the shore in the area, reports said.
Trucks were overturned and roofs were blown off while electricity poles and trees were uprooted by winds in some southern areas.
In the port city of Kaohsiung, at least 10 cargo ships broke from their anchors, including a 140,000-tonne vessel that rammed into two cargo cranes, according to local authorities.
Many cargo containers that were piled high in the port’s storage yards were blown off and scattered on the ground.
There were no reports of fatalities although nine people suffered minor injuries during the typhoon, according to the Central Emergency Operation Centre.
Armored cars were sent into Pingtung county to evacuate residents as flood waters reached a meter high.
School and work were cancelled for most eastern and southern counties, and the typhoon has knocked out power for nearly 650,000 households.
There are severe travel disruptions for the Mid-Autumn Festival long weekend which starts Thursday, as over 300 domestic and international flights have been cancelled and trains running along the east coast have been halted.
More than 130 ferry services to offshore islets and to several Chinese coastal cities have also been suspended, officials said.
The coastguard was forced to cancel a ceremony to launch two new ships in Kaohsiung while a maritime and defense expo in the city has been postponed, officials said.
The storm is expected to dump as much as 800 millimeters (31.5 inches) of rain in mountainous areas, potentially triggering landslides.
Close to 1,500 people have been evacuated from at-risk areas, with about half in temporary shelters, an official tally showed.
Meranti is now moving away from Taiwan northwest into the Taiwan Strait at 17 km an hour, heading towards southern China.
Another storm brewing east of the Philippines may also affect Taiwan later this week.
The weather bureau’s Hsieh said typhoon Malakas was expected to be closest to the island on Friday and Saturday, but was unlikely to make landfall.
Three people were killed and hundreds were injured in July when super typhoon Nepartak pounded Taiwan.
The island’s worst typhoon death toll came in 2009 when Morakot left more than 600 dead, including 400 people who were buried by mudslides triggered by torrential rains.