Nearly 2,600 people have been evacuated from Taiwan’s outer islands Thursday, as the island nation prepares for this year’s strongest typhoon so far, reports Agence France-Presse.
Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau categorized typhoon Soudelor as a moderate storm, but others claim it has become quite severe.
Residents and tourists were ordered to evacuate the Green Island and Orchid Island, off the coast of the eastern county of Taitung, while authorities suspended ferry services to the remote islands.
"It's posing a threat to the sea off the eastern half of Taiwan and the Bashi Channel," the Weather Bureau reported. "The chance of the typhoon strengthening later is still expected."
When Soudelor reaches Taiwan early Friday, it could lead to flooding rains, damaging winds, and tidal surges, which could "bring down trees, trigger power outages, and lead to structural damage, particularly of any poorly-built structures," reports the Weather Channel.
The Taiwanese government warned the public to take precautionary measures ahead of Soudelor's landing and gathered 32,000 soldiers standing by for disaster relief, the ministry of national defense said Thursday.
The typhoon first hit Saipan, home to some 48,000 residents in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, with wind speeds between 100 m.p.h. and 120 m.p.h. on Sunday, reports the Associated Press.
Gov. Ralph Torres declared a state of disaster and significant emergency after Soudelor left residents living in severe conditions without water or electricity.
It briefly became "super typhoon" Soudelor on Monday, when its winds reached 180 miles per hour, making it the strongest tropical cyclone on the planet so far this year, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC). A typhoon upgrades to a super typhoon when its winds are equal to or greater than 150 mph, reports CNN.
Although Soudelor has since weakened, it remains a "formidable, dangerous" typhoon, experts say.
On Saturday, when the JTWC predicts it will make landfall on both Taiwan's main island and mainland China, its wind speeds could reach 140 mph – comparable to a category 4 hurricane, the second-highest on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale.
The International Space Station’s Scott Kelly shared an "ominous" photo of typhoon Soudelor Thursday morning, showing the ISS view of the storm:
The Weather Channel predicts Soudelor will nearly reach Japan’s far southwest Ryukyu Islands Friday, before it weakens slightly and makes a final landfall in southeast China late Saturday.
The most recent notable typhoon to hit Taiwan was 2009’s Typhoon Morkato. Its heavy rainfall caused the most severe flooding in the nation since 1959, killing 681 people, reported the Tapei Times.
"Although it won't have the same effect of Typhoon Morakot, this typhoon is still very well developed," Premier Mao Chi-kuo said Thursday. "It must not be taken lightly."