Taitung - Typhoon Tembin swept across southern Taiwan on Friday, toppling trees and ripping off rooftops after thousands of people were evacuated to avoid a repeat of a deadly storm three years ago.
Tembin, characterised as a "severe" typhoon by the Hong Kong Observatory, hit before dawn and ground its way across Taiwan's southern tip before moving out to sea again, Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau said.
Fallen tree trunks covered roads in the south, rocks loosened by torrential rain fell from mountainsides, and in the coastal village of Tawu a number of rooftops were reportedly blown off by strong winds.
In towns along the rugged east coast, about 6 500 people were evacuated and schools and businesses shut down as communities braced for the typhoon to hit, but Tembin made landfall further south than expected.
There were no reports of casualties, but farmers said their livelihoods had been badly affected by the powerful weather system.
"This is more serious than we thought it would be," said Chen Yue-zi, a fruit and nut grower near the eastern city of Taitung, as he looked at his orchard, littered with trees toppled by heavy winds overnight.
Typhoon could return
The weather bureau said the typhoon appeared to have lost strength as it passed over Taiwan's mountainous southern terrain, and was now moving out to sea on a looping path.
But Central Weather Bureau forecaster Lo Ya-yin said the typhoon, currently in the narrow strait between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, could still circle back.
"Today and tomorrow will be a crucial time. It may come back. It's determined by a multitude of factors," she said.
As the storm bore down, police set up roadblocks in several locations leading to areas considered in danger of landslides, only letting through those on urgent business.
"It could have been worse if we hadn't closed parts of the highway last night," said an official with the highway administration, who gave his name as Wang.
The evacuations were ordered in risk areas along Taiwan's coastline as authorities attempt to prevent a repeat of an enormously destructive typhoon which hit three years ago.
50 000 soldiers on standby
Typhoon Morakot killed about 600 people in August 2009, most of them buried in huge landslides in the south.
A senior military official said on Thursday that authorities had learned lessons from Morakot, when they "had not done enough evacuations beforehand".
Taiwan's military had ordered 50 000 soldiers to be on standby, ready to move out and assist in disaster prevention efforts.
It also deployed amphibious armoured vehicles in the south for rescue efforts in case of flooding.
More than 1 800 Chinese fishermen recruited to work on Taiwan fishing boats were asked to seek safety in ports along the coast, with 800 of them placed in on-shore shelters, the Council of Agriculture said.
Tembin was preceded by heavy downpours, with Pingtung receiving 251mm of rain in the 30 hours prior to dawn on Friday, the weather bureau said.