TAIPEI (Reuters) - More than half a million homes lost power across Taiwan on Wednesday and five people were injured as Super Typhoon Meranti, which is believed to be the world’s strongest storm this year, hit the island.
Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau warned that the Category 5 storm threatened several southern and eastern cities, including Kaohsiung and Hualien, with strong winds, torrential rain and flooding.
Meranti, which grew in strength the closer it got to Taiwan, was carrying maximum winds of 227 km per hour (141 mph) as it clipped the south of the island, the weather bureau said.
“This typhoon is the world’s strongest so far this year,” weather bureau spokeswoman Hsieh Pei-yun said.
Taiwan’s Central Emergency Operation Centre said five people were injured, while many power lines were brought down, some by falling trees, cutting electricity to 550,000 households.
“The damage from Meranti will continue to rise as the storm slams the island,” said emergency centre spokesman Li Wei-sen.
“Losses probably cannot be avoided, but we’ll try to minimise casualties.”
Trains and shipping services were disrupted, while offices and schools in Kaohsiung and other cities were closed and almost 1,500 people were evacuated, the centre said.
Most domestic flights have been cancelled, including all of those from Kaohsiung airport, where international flights were also severely affected.
Taiwan will feel the full force of the typhoon through Wednesday and into Thursday before it barrels into China, meteorologists said.
Meranti is expected to make landfall in the southern Chinese provinces of Guangdong and Fujian on Thursday, where authorities were cancelling trains and preparing to evacuate people, state media said.
In Guangdong province, authorities ordered trawlers to return to harbour and fishermen to take shelter.
The official China News Service said the storm could be the strongest typhoon to hit that part of China since 1969.
Typhoons are common at this time of year, picking up strength as they cross the warm waters of the Pacific and bringing fierce winds and rain when they hit land.
Meranti comes just over two months after the deadly typhoon Nepartak cut power, grounded flights and forced thousands to flee their homes across central and southern areas of Taiwan.
In 2009, Typhoon Morakot cut a swath of destruction through southern Taiwan, killing about 700 people and causing up to $3 billion of damage.
Reporting by Faith Hung; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel