Millions of residents have taken shelter in Taiwan and offices and schools closed as the island braces itself for the first major typhoon of the storm season.
Typhoon Morakot, listed as a category 2, medium-strength storm, began enveloping Taiwan early on Friday, lashing parts of the island with wind gusts of up to 180kph.
Dozens of flights were cancelled, students and government workers told to stay home and Taipei’s stock and forex markets shut in anticipation of heavy rain and widespread flooding later on Friday.
Morakot, meaning “emerald” in Thai, is expected to slow as it heads towards the Chinese mainland, bringing extended periods of heavy rain.
Local television showed images of damaged buildings and pedestrians struggling against the wind.
Flights were grounded, ports were closed and high-speed trains were halted due to the strong winds.
Al Jazeera English’s meteorologist Steff Gaulter, said: “The eye of the storm is expected to hit with sustained winds of 165kph and gusts of up to 200kph.
”Then it is expected to hit east China’s Fujian province, but it will be less strong as it will have eased while crossing Taiwan.”
While meteorologists have warned of the potential for extensive damage, the heavy rains brought by the storm could also help alleviate a growing water shortage.
“We need to see how this storm develops, especially the rainfall and wind speeds in the afternoon,” Lee Ching-an, a disaster centre team leader, said.
Morakot is expected to weaken to a category 1 storm before moving on to eastern China by Saturday, according to the Tropical Storm Risk forecasting service.
Typhoons regularly hit China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Japan in the second half of the year, gathering strength from the warm waters of the Pacific ocean or South China sea before weakening over land.
Two major typhoons hit Taiwan last year, including a slow-moving storm that brought widespread flooding and killed 12 people.