Over 15 000 evacuated in Taiwan as typhoon heads to China

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Taipei – Super Typhoon Nepartak brought chaos to Taiwan on Friday, forcing more than 15 000 people to flee their homes as the strongest winds in over a century lashed part of the island.

The season's first major storm hit Taimali township in eastern Taitung county early on Friday, bringing torrential rain, shutting offices and schools and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

Ferocious winds battered the island at close to 200km per hour (120 miles per hour) – with Taitung recording the strongest gusts in the county since 1901, according to Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau.

A soldier who fell into the sea off Dongyin Island was found dead on Friday, the day after a man drowned off a beach in Hualien county, according to an official tally.

Dozens of injuries were also reported, most caused by fallen objects.

The storm weakened as it passed over the island before leaving southwest Tainan City at around 14:30 (06:30 GMT), heading for eastern China.

More than 15 000 people have been moved from their homes which were prone to landslides or flooding and about 3 600 of them were in shelters.

Nearly 4 000 people evacuated were in New Taipei City, which includes Wulai, a popular hot spring area near the capital which was cut off for days after Typhoon Soudelor ravaged Taiwan last August.

Soldiers on Thursday went door-to-door in remote mountainous areas urging villagers to leave their homes.

The defense ministry had stepped up evacuations since 2009, when Typhoon Morakot killed more than 600 people, many of them buried in huge landslides in the south.

As many as 466 000 households lost power due to the storm, with about 125 000 still without electricity as of Friday afternoon.

Most scheduled domestic flights were cancelled while close to 500 international flights were affected, Taipei's two main airports said.

Financial markets were shut and most trains also stopped running on Friday.

The 200km-radius storm had weakened to a "moderate" typhoon, Taiwan's weather bureau said, and was moving northwest at a speed of 12kph.

Preparations were being made on the mainland, where Nepartak is forecast to make landfall in Fujian province on Saturday.

It was expected to "cause impact on the entire province with severe wind and rains," the Fujian Meteorological Administration said, predicting wind speeds would have slowed to 137kph by the time it hit.

Ferry services and flights between Fujian and Taiwan were halted, as were trains running between cities in Fujian and the neighbouring provinces of Jiangxi and Zhejiang.

The local government asked ships at sea to return to harbour and all fishermen to evacuate, with 66 tugs and three helicopters lined up to help, Chinese official news portal people.com.cn reported on Friday.

Orders were issued for work on all sea-related construction to be stopped and all staff evacuated, and all coastal tourist spots and parks were closed, it said.

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