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Taitung, Taiwan - Thousands of people were evacuated, hundreds of flights cancelled and businesses closed in Taiwan as authorities prepared Sunday for Typhoon Haikui, the first major storm expected to directly hit the island in four years.
Haikui -- which already brought heavy rains by Sunday morning -- is forecast to make landfall by 5:00 pm (0900 GMT) in Taitung, a mountainous county in lesser-populated eastern Taiwan.
The storm was around 180 kilometres (110 miles) east of Taiwan just before 9:00 am, Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau said in a press conference.
"It is expected to pose a considerable threat to most areas in Taiwan with winds, rains and waves," said deputy director Fong Chin-tzu, urging to public to be "on guard".
"It has gathered some strength since yesterday," he said, adding that it would move west to the Taiwan Strait by Monday.
The typhoon was packing a sustained wind speed of about 154 kilometres (95 miles) per hour, prompting more than 200 domestics flights to be cancelled and businesses in the southern and eastern parts of the island to close on Sunday.
"I remind the people to make preparations for the typhoon and watch out for your safety, avoid going out or any dangerous activities," Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said.
Authorities said they had evacuated more than 2,800 people across seven cities -- the majority from the mountainous county of Hualien, which neighbours Taitung.
- 'Trees toppling' -
The streets of Hualien were deserted Sunday morning, battered by unrelenting rain, while a fishing harbour in northeastern coastal Yilan county saw towering waves slam against the shore.
In Taitung county, residents marvelled at the whipping winds and rain that led momentarily to white-out conditions.
"I almost forgot what it's like to be in a typhoon. What big winds!" restaurant owner Huang Jun-tong said, adding that when he woke up this morning he immediately went to his shop to make sure everything was protected.
"Yesterday it was so calm that we did not feel like a typhoon was coming. Today, we feel it," he told AFP.
"I think this time it is serious," said retired mechanic Chang Jhi-ming, 58.
"This is just beginning, the wind is just coming in and you can see trees toppling already."
The military had mobilised soldiers and equipment -- such as amphibious vehicles and inflatable rubber boats -- around the parts of Taiwan where Haikui is expected to have the heaviest impact.
The last major storm to hit Taiwan was Typhoon Bailu in 2019, which left one person dead.
Haikui is expected to be less severe than Saola, which bypassed Taiwan but triggered the highest threat level in nearby Hong Kong and southern China before it weakened into a tropical storm by Saturday.
© Agence France-Presse