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Super typhoon nears Taiwan

Taipei (AFP) – Taiwan cancelled dozens of flights and shut schools and offices Thursday as the island braced for a direct hit from Super Typhoon Nepartak, the first major tropical storm of the season.

The typhoon was packing gusts of up to 245 kilometers an hour as it rumbled towards the eastern county of Hualien, where it is due to make landfall early Friday, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau.

The storm is expected to dump torrential rain on the whole island with mountainous areas forecast to be deluged with up to 500 millimeters, potentially triggering landslides that have in the past claimed hundreds of lives. More than 35,000 soldiers are on standby to help with evacuations and disaster relief, while 90 shelters have been set up.

Most domestic flights were grounded while 59 international flights would be affected, Taipei’s two main airports said. Conditions are expected to deteriorate significantly before the storm hits, the weather bureau said. The storm had a radius of 200 kilometers and was moving west-northwest at a speed of 14 kilometers an hour. The storm is forecast to hit southern China as a typhoon after battering Taiwan.