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Hualien, Taiwan (AFP) Aug 23, 2012
Taiwan evacuated nearly 5,000 people Thursday ahead of Typhoon Tembin, as a military official warned major measures were needed a avoid a repeat of a deadly disaster three years ago.
About 50,000 soldiers were on standby on the island, where memories are still raw from Typhoon Morakot, which killed about 600 people in August 2009, most of them buried in huge landslides in the south.
"Those evacuated are either from low-lying areas or places prone to landslides. This means they will not be caught totally unprepared if natural disasters were to happen," defence ministry spokesman David Lo told AFP.
"We need to adopt this type of preventive measure because of the painful lesson in 2009 when Typhoon Morakot pounded Taiwan, and we had not done enough evacuation beforehand."
As the typhoon drew nearer, local governments in the east, south and centre of the island announced late in the day that schools and offices will be closed Friday.
More than 4,800 people, nearly 2,000 of them from Hualien county in eastern Taiwan, had been moved from their homes by early evening, according to the Central Emergency Operation Centre.
Young conscripts, many wearing facial masks against the sandstorms whipped up by the gusting winds, went from house to house and helped elderly residents, who left their homes willingly.
More than 1,800 Chinese fishermen recruited to work on Taiwan fishing boats had been asked to seek safety in ports along the coast, with 800 of them placed in on-shore shelters, the Council of Agriculture said.
Traffic on the highway stretching along Taiwan's rugged east coast had been reduced to a trickle in the afternoon, as intermittent but violent rain formed a precursor for the typhoon likely to hit.
Tembin could make landfall in Taitung in eastern Taiwan on Friday although its exact path is affected by Bolaven, another typhoon around 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) east of Taiwan, according to the Central Weather Bureau.
The Hong Kong Observatory classified Tembin as a "severe typhoon", while Taiwan's weather bureau listed it as a "mid-level".
The Taiwanese bureau warned that it would bring torrential rains and trigger mudslides in the east, an area badly hit earlier this month by Typhoon Saola, which killed six people.
In towns along the east coast, many shops had been closed down in the afternoon as locals braced for the typhoon. Schools in Hualien county and neighbouring Taitung county were also closed.
As the waves along the island's Pacific coast grew in size in the course of the day, authorities sealed off the entrances of several beaches.
As of 10:15 pm (1415 GMT), Tembin was 100 kilometres east of Taitung. With a radius of 180 kilometres and packing winds gusting at up to 155 kilometres an hour, it was moving west at ten kilometres per hour.
A total of 103 domestic and 13 international flights were cancelled, according to the transport ministry.
Two passenger cruise ships scrapped services to Japan's Okinawa and Ishigaki, an outlying island off Okinawa.
All shipping between Taiwan and its offshore islands was suspended, the emergency operation centre said.
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