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August 8, 2009

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Schools, offices closed as typhoon pummels Taiwan

TYPHOON Morakot surged toward Taiwan yesterday, closing offices and schools, disrupting transportation and confining millions of residents to their homes as its violent western fringe struck the island with high winds and heavy rain.

Late last night, Taiwan's Weather Bureau placed the center of Morakot about 40 kilometers east of the eastern city of Hualien. It said it was packing winds of 145 kilometers per hour.

The bureau said the storm was expected to hug the island's east coast and make landfall in the early hours today. It was expected to pass directly through the densely populated north, though it should arrive there weakened.

Across the Taiwan Strait, more than 20,000 people were evacuated from coastal areas in Fujian Province, where the typhoon was forecast to make landfall later today. Authorities have sent more than 8 million text messages to mobile phones to warn residents in far-flung areas of the storm's approach.

Another 34,000 vessels had been recalled to take shelter in ports, according to Xinhua news agency.

All schools and scenic spots in Fujian have been ordered closed, and more than 3,300 paramilitary troops were on alert, equipped with flotation devices, speedboats and other rescue equipment,.

In Zhejiang Province, 29,987 ocean-faring fishing ships and boats have taken shelter at harbors or on land, Xinhua said.

Schools and businesses throughout Taiwan were closed, and many flights were canceled from Taipei to Asian destinations along with all domestic flights from the city. Taiwan also suspended operations of its high speed railroad.

In the northeastern port of Batohzi, huge waves pummeled the rocky coastline and dozens of fishing vessels bided their time behind the protection of a breakwater, waiting for the storm to pass.

In a nearby dormitory, some 200 mainland fishermen played mahjong, snacked on instant noodles and watched kung fu movies.

Batohzi traditionally provides refuge for fishermen from the mainland caught on the high seas when major storms approach.

"It wasn't so bad when we came in here last night," said one, who identified himself only by his surname, Yu. "But we'll probably be stuck here for at least two days until we can get back out to sea."

Some 30 kilometers to the west, the normally bustling streets of Taipei were largely abandoned, as residents sought refuge from the high winds and heavy rain.

By late yesterday, numerous locations around the island were reporting precipitation in excess of 600 millimeters, and some 25,000 households were without power.

Minor landslides were reported along Taiwan's mountainous spine, and TV pictures showed farmers inspecting ruined crops near the southern city of Kaohsiung.


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