Powerful typhoon forces evacuation of thousands and halts transportation in Taiwan

By Debby Wu, AP
Sunday, September 19, 2010

6,000 evacuated in Taiwan as typhoon hits

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A powerful typhoon ripped into Taiwan on Sunday, crippling transportation around the island and prompting the evacuation of thousands of residents from mountainous areas prone to devastating landslides.

Typhoon Fanapi, the first major storm to strike the island this year, made landfall in the eastern city of Hualien at 8:40 a.m. (0040 GMT), packing winds of 89 mph (144 kph) and churning its way westward toward China at a speed of 12 mph (20 kph), the Central Weather Bureau said.

The bureau said the typhoon had dumped as much as 15 inches (391 millimeters) of rain in southern Taiwan as of noon (0400 GMT), with much more to come.

Officials evacuated 6,000 residents from remote areas vulnerable to landslides, half of them in the southern part of the island, according to Taiwan’s Central Emergency Operation Center. Landslides caused by torrential rains are traditionally the greatest danger the typhoons bring to this island of 23 million people, which is riven by a series of tall mountains and narrow valleys dotted with hundreds of isolated farming communities.

As Fanapi made landfall, Taiwan’s China Airlines suspended all international departures from the southern city of Kaohsiung and other airlines, including Hong Kong’s Dragon Air and China Eastern canceled scheduled flights to regional destinations from Taipei.

All of Taiwan’s domestic air and rail service was halted.

Officials said five inter-county roads in central and southern Taiwan were closed because of safety concerns.

Taiwan’s government has deployed thousands of emergency workers and military personnel throughout the island to try to mitigate damage, mindful of the public relations shellacking it took after Typhoon Morakot killed an estimated 700 people last summer.

Following that disaster, President Ma Ying-jeou’s approval rating collapsed, and he was forced to replace many of his senior ministers.

On Sunday, TV footage showed landslides blocking a road in central Taiwan, and floods partially submerging a bridge in the southern county of Kaohsiung, while troops worked against the clock to build dikes near a rain-swollen river in nearby Pingtung county.

Taiwan’s government-owned Central News Agency reported 90,000 households in the eastern county of Hualien lost power after Fanapi hit.

Meanwhile, China’s National Meteorological Center said Fanapi could be the strongest the country has seen this season. It was expected to hit China’s eastern provinces of Guangdong and Fujian on Monday morning.

Fanapi would be the 11th typhoon to hit China this year. Seasonal flooding in China has been the worst in a decade.

In China’s Fujian province, authorities evacuated about 150,000 people and recalled 55,000 boats to shore, the provincial water resources department said. The National Meteorological Center issued a “red alert” for the typhoon Sunday morning, warning strong winds and heavy rains will affect the area.

Associated Press Writer Gillian Wong in Beijing contributed to this report.

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