Taiwan began evacuating residents in mountainous areas while offices and schools were closed and flights were cancelled on Tuesday as Typhoon Maria churned towards the island bringing torrential rains and powerful winds.
Maria was 310 kilometres (190 miles) east of the northeastern coastal town of Yilan packing gusts of up to 173 kilometres an hour as of 5:00 pm (0900 GMT), the weather bureau said.
Its impact was expected to be strongest from late Tuesday to early Wednesday although it has weakened slightly in the past few hours, with up to 500 millimetres (20 inches) of rainfall forecast for some areas, the bureau added.
Authorities said nearly 700 people had been evacuated as of Tuesday evening. Local television showed soldiers going door to door in a mountainside village in Yilan to help evacuate residents.
Officials have warned of possible floods and mudslides.
“I have ordered the troops to stand by for relevant disaster prevention and relief … I also want to urge the public again to make typhoon preparations as early as possible,” President Tsai Ing-wen said in a post on her Facebook page.
Premier William Lai also warned local authorities and the public to “remain vigilant” for the first typhoon of the season in Taiwan.
He urged people to stay indoors and cooperate with the government’s disaster prevention plans.
Offices and schools closed in eight cities and counties on Tuesday afternoon with heavy rains and winds starting to pound parts of the island.
Maria also disrupted air and land traffic, as a total of 76 domestic flights and 145 international flights were cancelled, according to Central Emergency Operation Centre.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific said it had cancelled more than a dozen flights between Hong Kong and Taipei, as well as from Hong Kong to Okinawa on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Buses to Yilan were suspended for Tuesday night as some routes were closed for safety reasons. Some trains to Hualien were also halted, where strong waves started to pound the shore.
Fishermen in coastal Keeling also brought in their catch and secured their boats ahead of the storm. Ferry services to outlying islands were cancelled.
Farmers in Yilan rushed to their fields to harvest scallions, the county’s most famous produce.
The typhoon will not make a direct hit if it continues on its current trajectory, which would see it skirt northern Taiwan, according to the weather bureau.
Taiwan is frequently hit by typhoons in the summer. Last year more than 100 people were injured when Typhoon Nesat battered the island, causing flooding and widespread power outages.