ILAN, Taiwan (AFP) – At least seven people died when a temple collapsed in Taiwan on Friday as torrential rains unleashed by Typhoon Megi triggered landslides that also left dozens missing and hundreds stranded.
Megi, the strongest storm to hit the northwest Pacific in two decades, has already killed at least 36 people in the Philippines and was expected to make landfall early Saturday in Fujian province in southeast China.
Along China’s densely populated southeastern coastline, authorities have evacuated more than 160,000 people from low-lying areas, while dozens of flights have been cancelled and thousands of fishing boats recalled to port.
In Taiwan, rescuers recovered seven bodies buried under the debris of Bai Yun Temple in Suao, a coastal town in the northeast Ilan county, the National Fire Agency said in a statement posted on its website. Two nuns are believed to be among the dead.
More than 20 people, including Chinese tourists, remained unaccounted for after their buses were trapped along a badly damaged highway in Ilan as the torrential rains hit, rescuers said.
About 400 people in a long line of cars were stranded when the mudslides blocked the road, but 70 were later airlifted to safety and the rest were expected to leave by foot or bus after rescuers cleared part of the highway.
“The threat of Megi still exists today and we urge all to be on guard against torrential rains,” Taiwan’s Interior Minister Jiang Yi-huah said in a statement.
Projections by the Hong Kong Observatory showed the typhoon was likely to hit the mainland on Saturday near the southern Chinese cities of Xiamen and Shantou — between them home to more than seven million people.
Along the coast, around 160,000 people have been evacuated, ports have been shut and shipping suspended, the official Xinhua news agency reported. Dozens of flights have been cancelled and schools closed.
“Megi could bring the largest concentration of rainfall this year and will have a serious impact on the province’s coast,” Fujian’s civil affairs department said in a statement.
As of 1800 GMT, the storm was centred about 200 kilometres (120 miles) south of Xiamen and heading for the Chinese coast, the Hong Kong observatory said.
It was packing maximum sustained winds of around 130 kilometres (90 miles) an hour.
But despite its ferocity, the typhoon — which will be the 13th to hit China this year — ground only slowly across Asia, moving at about 12 kilometres an hour, the observatory said.
China was battered earlier this year by its worst floods in more than a decade, with more than 4,300 people dead or missing — including 1,500 killed in one mudslide in the northwestern province of Gansu in August.
In the Philippines, the death toll from Megi rose to 36 after it slammed into the northeastern side of the main island of Luzon on Monday, ripping roofs off houses, toppling power lines and nearly destroying some coastal villages.
The government civil defence office said more than 32,000 people were still being housed in evacuation centres as the government rushed tents and food supplies to devastated regions in the north.
Early estimates of the economic damage from the storm amounted to more than 7.6 billion pesos (176 million dollars), the office said.
In southern China, China Southern Airlines cancelled flights from the Guangdong provincial capital Guangzhou and Xiamen to the Philippines capital Manila, and said service would be further disrupted to Southeast Asian cities.
Domestic flights originating in Guangzhou were also affected, the China Daily said, citing airport sources.
Railway ferry services linking the mainland to the southern island of Hainan have been suspended through Saturday, and many coastal cities have also cut ferry services until the storm passes, the newspaper said.
The Hong Kong Observatory warned of possible flooding in low-lying areas, prompting emergency crews to lay sandbags in preparation.