A typhoon inched across northern Taiwan on Thursday after already dumping up to five feet of rain that has flooded farmland, swollen rivers and paralyzed life on much of the densely populated island of 23 million people.
Typhoon Saola weakened to a strong tropical storm by late afternoon, but its slow movement and continuing heavy rains raised the prospect of devastating flooding in areas that have absorbed more than 150 centimeters (58 inches) of rain since Tuesday.
It has caused five deaths and left two people missing in Taiwan
Earlier in the day, in the northeastern county of Ilan, rescuers were using rubber boats and amphibious vehicles to help hundreds escape flooded homes. They were also seeking to locate at least six stranded residents, cut off from the rest of their farming community when flood waters overwhelmed a small bridge.
Dozens of flights were canceled at Taipei’s main international airport, where heavy winds destroyed two jetways, and rail transport throughout the island was disrupted. All seven major reservoirs in Taiwan released large quantities of water in a flood prevention measure.
Offices and businesses were closed throughout northern Taiwan, including in Taipei. Normally busy streets in the capital were deserted except for cleanup crews clearing off trees and branches felled by the storm overnight.
The Defense Ministry mobilized 48,000 soldiers to help mitigate the storm’s impact.
Situation in Philippines
Torrential rain and strong winds from Typhoon Saola killed 29 people, injured 21 and displaced 179,990 in the northern and central Philippines, rescue officials said Thursday.
More than 2,700 homes were damaged or destroyed, forcing 12,000 people into evacuation centres, the Office of Civil Defence said as the typhoon made landfall in Taiwan.
The latest casualties from Saola included two men struck by falling trees in the central province of Bohol and a third grade student who drowned in floods in the northern province of Ilocos Sur, said the head of the agency, Benito Ramos.
Three teenage girls also drowned while playing in floodwaters in the Manila suburb of Malabon Thursday, city officials said.
Schools in at least a dozen districts were closed, and power was cut off in many areas of at least three provinces, the Office of Civil Defence’s national disaster centre said.
About 125 fishermen were rescued as a ban on small craft and fishing boats on the open sea remained in force, the centre said. At least 800 ferry passengers were stranded after services to the country’s central islands were suspended.