Typhoon Bilis batters southern Taiwan

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The Independent Online

Typhoon Bilis slammed into Taiwan on Tuesday with raging winds of up to 118 mph (190 kph) that knocked out power, stranded residents and killed a construction worker.

Typhoon Bilis slammed into Taiwan on Tuesday with raging winds of up to 118 mph (190 kph) that knocked out power, stranded residents and killed a construction worker.

As the eye of the storm passed over land, forecasters said the typhoon might become even more intense.

Chien Kuo-chi, a weather official at the Central Weather Bureau said that as of Tuesday evening the center of the storm was 37 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of Taitung City, in southern Taiwan.

Weather officials said the typhoon's sustained winds could increase to 145 mph (233 kph), the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane, which is capable of causing extreme damage. Category 5 storms, the strongest classification of hurricanes, are extremely rare.

Typhoons develop west of the international date line, while hurricanes are spawned east of the line. A worker was killed when a retaining wall collapsed at a landfill being constructed outside the capital, Taipei, the government's disaster relief center said.

Six photographers and two officials shooting a film were stranded on a mountain in southern Kaohsiung and sought shelter in a hut, the center said.

About 80,000 households throughout the island suffered a blackout, while technicians braved rains to secure power towers to prevent more damage, officials said.

The 10th typhoon to hit the region this year, Bilis was traveling at 14 mph (23 kph). Weather officials said the typhoon's sustained winds could go up to 145 mph (233 kph), making it equivalent to Category 4.

The government warned against massive landslides in mountainous regions all over the island and urged residents to remain indoors. Hospitals extended hours at emergency rooms and trauma units.

Early Tuesday, local carriers canceled flights to southern Taiwan and many airports there have closed. The Kaohsiung harbor - one of the world's busiest ports - was closed early Tuesday.

Officials said government offices, banks and Taiwan's stock market will be closed on Wednesday.

Taiwan's Defense Ministry and state-run electric company Taiwan Power have also set up disaster relief centers in southern Taiwan to assist in emergencies. Premier Tang Fei said that Taiwan's army will be on alert.

The government has been vigilant in handling natural calamities following the 7.6-magnitude earthquake in September 1999 that left 2,400 people dead.

Television footage showed residents in Taitung City lining up at supermarket counters for food, flashlights, and batteries as early rains disrupted traffic.

But surfers in the southern beach resort of Kenting, about 285 miles (460 kilometers) from Taipei, hit the beaches Tuesday to take advantage of rising waves.

Bilis was the second strong typhoon to hit Taiwan this year. Last month, Typhoon Kai Tak swept through southern Taiwan with winds of up to 93 mph (150 kph), leaving one dead and five others injured.

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