XIAMEN –– Typhoon Meranti struck China’s mainland after pounding Taiwan, making landfall early Thursday near Xiamen in Fujian Province, according to CNN meteorologists.
The powerful storm first raked southern Taiwan, bringing winds of up to 230 miles per hour (370 kilometres per hour) –– faster than a Formula One race car –– at one point and torrential rains.
Meranti is the strongest typhoon since Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines in 2013.
When it made landfall over mainland China, the storm’s maximum sustained winds were 145 miles per hour (230 kilometres per hour) with gusts of up to 175 miles per hour (280 kilometres per hour).
Meranti’s strength prompted China to issue its highest warning for high ocean waves as emergency crews and officials prepared for the deluge.
“The typhoon will bring gales and heavy rains when it makes landfall,” meteorologist Li Mei said, according to state-run Xinhua news agency.
Typhoon Meranti will weaken quickly as it moves inland. Heavy rainfall and flash flooding, as well as dangerous winds, will continue for the next 48 hours. Mudslides will be possible in eastern China.
Meranti had been classified as a super typhoon, but the storm –– though still dangerous –– has weakened to typhoon status, the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre said late Wednesday.
It’s now the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
The main threats to land include large storm surges and coastal inundation, inland flash flooding, mudslides and damaging winds in excess of 90 miles per hour (150 kilometers per hour).
Schools and offices across the south of Taiwan closed, and flights were canceled, according to news reports.
Two people were injured, according to Taiwanese authorities. More than 500,000 households lost power, Taiwanese state-run Central News Agency said.
More than 370 domestic and international flights were canceled, train services were suspended and roads were closed.
As of 7 a.m. local time Wednesday, around 1,500 people had been evacuated from the affected areas, Li Wei-sen of the Taiwan Central Emergency Operating Centre told CNN.
Almost 4,000 military and police personnel were deployed to prepare for potential future evacuations, but he said authorities are not expecting major damage or destruction.
In West Dawu, rainfall totaled 707 millimetres or nearly 28 inches, and flood warnings are in place for 16 rivers, the news agency said.
But the main brunt of the storm will fall on China.
Authorities in six southeastern provinces as well as Shanghai initiated emergency response measures, according to Xinhua.
It took only 24 hours for the storm to go from a minimal typhoon (winds of 80 miles per hour) to a super typhoon with winds in excess of 150 miles per hour, CNN meteorologists said.
China’s National Meteorological Centre issued a red typhoon warning at 6 a.m. local time Wednesday, while authorities cautioned that waves eight to 13 metres (26 to 42 feet) high could be expected in the northeastern South China Sea.
“Gales and waves up to 12 metres high have been observed off the eastern coast of Taiwan, as the 14th typhoon this year moves westward and is expected to hit the coast of Fujian, Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces on Wednesday and Thursday,” Xinhua reported.
Surges are expected off those three provinces, officials said.
The State Oceanic Administration trigged “a class-II emergency response, the second highest level”, ships have been ordered back to harbour and people have been told not to venture outside, according to the news agency.
Despite being a frequent target for powerful Pacific typhoons, Taiwan has a track record of limiting their deadly impact. But storms often turn deadlier as they move to the mainland. The flatter terrain –– prone to storm surges and inland flooding –– and higher population density often result in a great number of deaths or displacement of people.
In July, Super Typhoon Nepartak hit in almost the same location as where Meranti is traveling. Nepartak caused at least three deaths in Taiwan and cut power to more than 500,000 but became much deadlier as it moved to the mainland.
Despite weakening to a tropical storm, Nepartak and its associated heavy rainfall of up to ten inches killed more than 80 people. Meranti is a much stronger storm than Nepartak was, meteorologists said.