Powerful Typhoon Soudelor slams into Taiwan

Story highlights

  • Typhoon Soudelor makes landfall on the east coast of Taiwan early Saturday morning
  • A girl and her mother are dead, and the girl's sister is missing, after they were swept out to sea, a news agency says
  • Thousands of military personnel have been deployed to aid evacuations

(CNN)Typhoon Soudelor made landfall Saturday morning just north of the Taiwanese city of Hualien on the east coast of the island, bringing fierce winds and torrential rain.

Forecasters had predicted the storm would have maximum sustained winds at landfall of about 125 mph (200 kph), the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane.
    Authorities in Taiwan had deployed more than 35,000 military personnel to help relocate residents of vulnerable areas as Soudelor made its way across the Pacific Ocean.
    Parts of Northern Taiwan have already picked up over 12 inches (300 millimeters) of rain in the 24 hours ahead of the storm's approach, according to Taiwan's Central Weather 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.
    Earlier this week, Soudelor became the strongest storm on the planet so far this year, with peak winds at 180 mph (290 kph), according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

    2 dead, 1 missing after being swept out to sea

    A 7-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, according to the Yilan County Fire Bureau.
    Another 8-year-old girl survived and was pulled from the waves by rescue workers, the Taiwan Central News Agency said. The group was dragged out to sea from shallow waters at a beach in the northeastern county of Yilan.
    CNN Meteorologist Tom 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.