TAIPEI, Taiwan – Thousands of people were evacuated in Taiwan and the entire island declared an “alert zone” as Typhoon Soulik made landfall early Saturday morning, killing one person and injuring seven.
In the capital Taipei, a 50-year-old police officer died after he was hit in the head by a brick that came loose during the typhoon, the Central Emergency Operation Centre said.
Seven people were also injured in Taipei, mostly by falling objects.
More than 8,000 people have been moved from their homes, many from southern areas prone to landslides, according to officials.
“The whole country is now considered an alert zone,” an official from the National Fire Agency told AFP, as soldiers were deployed in high risk areas.
Around 5,000 of those who have been evacuated were from the landslide zones in the south — 3,000 were moved out of Kaohsiung city and 2,000 others from Pingtung county.
They have been taken to local government buildings which have been turned into shelters.
Offices and schools closed in Taipei and eight other cities, with residents advised to stay indoors as the typhoon churns towards the island.
Packing winds of up to 190 kilometres an hour (118 miles), Soulik made landfall on the north-east coast around 03:00 am Saturday (2000 GMT Friday), the Central Weather Bureau said.
Local media reported that the police officer hit by the brick had been riding a motorcycle home after work. He died on the spot at around 02:40 am (1940 GMT).
Even before Soulik’s arrival, Taipei was pounded by powerful winds and downpours which disrupted power in some areas, uprooted trees and caused injuries.
In the north, more than 600 residents were evacuated from six low-lying aboriginal riverside villages on Fridaymorning.
“I saw TV reporting that the typhoon may bring in up to one metre of rainfall. That would be terrible and reminded me of the painful memories last year,” Ginghong Izan, a male migrant from the Amei aboriginal tribe told AFP, speaking outside his home in Hsichou village.
“My TV, computer, refrigerator and furniture were all flooded when (Typhoon) Saola hit in August. It cost me around Tw$200,000 ($6,670),” the 52-year-old said, adding that he started moving valuables to higher parts of his house two days ago.
Saola left six dead, two missing and 16 wounded in Taiwan after taking 23 lives in the Philippines.
Other villagers were busy packing up their personal belongings and were reinforcing the roofs of their wooden homes.
In Wuchieh, a township in the northeastern Yilan county — which is forecast to bear the brunt of Soulik — over 2,000 sandbags were snatched up by residents and two amphibious military vehicles were deployed for rescue services.
Waves as high as 1.5 metres hit the shore in Yilan on Friday afternoon as coastguards patrolled the beach to warn visitors to stay away while hundreds of fishing boats sought shelter.
“Many farmers have harvested rice, fruits and vegetables early as the typhoon is expected to impact our area,” said Huang Hai-tao, an official in Jiaosi, a popular tourist destination in Yilan.
“The typhoon has also caused some damage to tourism as more than 90 percent bookings for this weekend have been cancelled.”
‘Don’t let your guards down’
President Ma Ying-jeou urged government units and the public “not to let their guards down” in a statement Friday, after inspecting the central government’s disaster response centre.
A coastal highway in Yilan where 20 Chinese tourists were killed by landslides caused by Typhoon Megi in 2010 was also closed.
More than 2,000 tourists had already been evacuated from the remote Green Island, southeast of Taiwan, on Thursday.
The storm has disrupted air travel to and from Taiwan with 113 flights cancelled according to the transport authorities.
Taiwan’s China Airlines said it will cancel or postpone all flights leaving before 11:00 am on Saturday
In Taipei’s Songshan district, one neighbourhood politician toured the streets in a car warning people over a loudspeaker to leave work and go home by 2:00 pm local time (0700 GMT).
Local television in the capital reported traffic gridlock and a run on supermarkets as people rushed to stock up.
Measuring 280 kilometres across, Soulik was 30 kilometres east-southeast of Yilan at 1900 GMT, according to the weather bureau.
In August 2009 Typhoon Morakot killed about 600 people in Taiwan, most of them buried in huge landslides in the south, in one of the worst natural disasters to hit the island in recent years.
Soulik is moving along the same route as 1996 super-typhoon Herb, which left 51 dead and 22 missing in Taiwan. – Rappler.com