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Typhoon Soudelor aims straight at Taiwan

Taiwan braces for arrival of powerful Typhoon Soudelor

(CNN) Taiwan is bracing for a powerful storm that’s barreling toward it across the Pacific.

Typhoon Soudelor, which this week became the strongest storm on the planet so far this year, is expected to slam into Taiwan’s eastern coast at around 8 a.m. local time Saturday (8 p.m. ET Friday), bringing fierce winds and torrential rain.

The storm has lost some of its earlier force, but its maximum sustained winds when it makes landfall are still forecast to be around 125 mph (200 kph), the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane.

Authorities in Taiwan are preparing for Soudelor, deploying more than 35,000 military personnel to help relocate residents of vulnerable areas.

Parts of Northern Taiwan have already picked up over 12 inches (300 millimeters) of rain today as the storm approaches, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau. Hualien, close to where the typhoon is expected to make landfall, is reporting wind gusts up to 75 mph (120 kph) on Friday evening, said the Bureau. As of Friday midnight, some 82,000 homes were without power, according to Taiwan Power Company.

Schools and government offices in some areas were closed Friday for all or part of the day. Taiwanese airlines have announced flight adjustments, canceling a number of domestic and international flights for Saturday, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency. Railways have likewise suspended high speed and regular train services, said the Agency.

The Central Weather Bureau has warned 16 cities and counties they’re likely to experience intense rain and powerful winds from Soudelor.

“By midnight, tropical storm-force winds will circulate around the entire island before it moves across,” CNN meteorologist Tom Sater said.

2 dead, 1 missing after being swept out to sea

An 8-year-old girl and her mother died, and the girl’s twin sister remained missing, after they were swept out to sea Thursday by swells that might have been caused by the typhoon’s approach, the island’s Central News Agency reported, citing emergency authorities.

Another 8-year-old girl survived and was pulled from the waves by rescue workers, the news agency said. The group was dragged out to sea from shallow waters at a beach in the northeastern county of Yilan.

Sater warned that communities in low-lying areas of Taiwan’s rugged eastern coast are at risk of a storm surge, flooding and landslides. Over the course of the storm, the risks from flooding and landslides are potentially greater than the risks from storm surge or wind, which will be diminished by Taiwan’s mountainous terrain, said CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller.

After Taiwan, Soudelor will churn across the sea to mainland China. The storm is forecast to weaken by then but is still predicted to pack hurricane-strength winds when it makes landfall late Saturday.

Nearly 5,000 people, most of them working in the fishing industry, have been moved to safer areas in Fujian province, which is expected to take a direct hit from the typhoon, China’s state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

Soudelor has already wreaked havoc in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, passing through earlier this week and disrupting water and electricity services. On Wednesday, The White House declared Saipan a disaster zone. The Navy announced that it will send the USS Ashland to provide relief to the island.

The West Pacific Basin has seen 10 typhoons so far in 2015.

Of those, five have reached super-typhoon strength, meaning sustained winds of at least 150 mph (240 kph). That total is higher than the average of four for an entire year.

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