Taiwan evacuates 2,000 tourists as super typhoon looms

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TAIPEI — Taiwan evacuated more than 2,000 tourists on Thursday as the island braced for super-typhoon Soulik while Japan’s Okinawa warned residents giant waves of up to 12 meters could hit the archipelago.

The typhoon, packing gusts of up to 227 kilometers per hour, was 790 kilometers east southeast of the island’s Yilan city in the northeast at 0900 GMT, Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau said.

“That means trees could be uprooted and roofs ripped off” if the typhoon struck the island without losing strength, a weather forecaster told AFP.

Soulik is moving west-northwest towards Taiwan at about 22 kph and could narrowly skip or make landfall in the north of the island sometime between late Friday and Saturday morning, the bureau said.

“The public must heighten their vigilance as the typhoon will certainly bring strong winds and heavy rains,” the weather forecaster said.

The Taipei-based TVBS news channel said the route evoked painful memories of 1996 when super-typhoon Herb lashed the island with powerful winds and heavy rains, leaving 51 dead and 22 missing.

Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau is expected to issue a “land warning” at 1230 GMT, a further warning signal issued when the storm is thought to be 18 hours away from Taiwan.

Authorities evacuated 2,300 tourists from Green Island, off the southeastern city of Taitung, and issued a warning to ships sailing north and east off Taiwan to take special precaution.

The Okinawa weather bureau in Japan warned waves of up to 12 meters and gusts of winds up to 234 kph may hit parts of the far southwest of the archipelago.

The westernmost inhabited island of Okinawa lies around 100 km from the east coast of Taiwan.

The local government said while no specific guidance had yet been issued, people should take the usual precautions.

“It is possible that strong winds will blow things around leading to broken windows and the risk of injury,” an official said.

“The local government may issue instructions and orders as the typhoon closes in,” he added.

The Hong Kong Observatory has classified Soulik as a “super typhoon” on its website, while Taiwan’s weather bureau listed it as a “strong typhoon.”

On the Chinese mainland, meteorological authorities maintained an orange alert — the second-highest level — for Soulik on Thursday, Beijing’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

After hitting or passing Taiwan on Saturday Soulik is expected to head towards the coastal provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian, bringing “extremely strong” winds, it cited the National Meteorological Center as saying.

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 lash the island in recent years.

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