Typhoon Bilis Moves in on Taiwan

Typhoon Bilis pounded Taiwan with powerful winds and heavy rains today, and workers shut offices and headed home early to prepare for more fierce weather.

One man was killed and another was missing, disaster response officials at the National Fire Administration said.

At 11:00 GMT, the storm’s center was about 93 miles southeast of the southeastern city of Taitung and bearing down on Taiwan at 14 miles per hour, the Central Weather Bureau said.

Packing sustained winds of 118 miles per hour and gusts of up to 93 miles per hour, Bilis is more powerful than Typhoon Zeb, which killed 31 people and injured 19 in 1998.

The diameter of Bilis is large enough to cover the island.

Typhoon rains caused a retaining wall to collapse on a contractor in Taipei county — the first person on the official casualty list.

A doctor mountain climbing in eastern Taiwan’s scenic Taroko Gorge was missing and rescue teams had started a search, an administration spokeswoman said.

She said officials had temporarily lost contact with eight members of a government documentary film crew in central Taiwan’s Kaohsiung county.

Airline flights to southern Taiwan were cancelled and some carriers called off all domestic flights.

International departures were moved forward and arrivals delayed in the hope of avoiding the worst of the storm.

Shelter for Chinese Fishermen

Port authorities bent the rules for about 1,000 mainland Chinese fishermen working aboard Taiwan vessels, allowing them to come on shore for shelter.

Taiwan law forbids fishermen from political rival China from setting foot on the island, and usually requires them to remain aboard ships moored at port during heavy weather.

The central bank called off afternoon trade in foreign exchange and money markets on today and said the markets would stay closed on Wednesday.

Stock trading ended at the usual time, but officials say the stock market would be closed on Wednesday.

Bilis is expected to cut across the island’s south near Taitung and head for the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian. It is advancing north-northwest on Taiwan at 22 km per hour.

Early Storm Warning

Taiwan issued land and sea warnings for the storm on Monday.

China’s official Xinhua news agency said Bilis was forecast to hit southern and central Fujian at around noon on Wednesday and the observatory in Xiamen city issued a storm warning.

With Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian on a tour of Africa, Vice-President Annette Lu headed to the fire administration to take charge of relief operations.

“This Typhoon Bilis looks as if it is coming on very fierce,” Lu told reporters. “Although President Chen is out of the country, his heart is with us and we hope the whole nation can get through the night safely.”

Many government offices and private businesses were closed by this afternoon, and markets did brisk morning business as shoppers stocked up on food and bottled water.

The Council of Agriculture said it asked farmers to put almost 7,000 tons of vegetables in frozen storage to stabilize prices after the storm.