Taiwan braces as strongest typhoon in two years churns towards island

TAIPEI: Taiwan cancelled flights and school classes on Friday as the strongest typhoon to threaten in two years churned straight for the island and was expected to make landfall on Saturday.

Typhoon Soudelor has already claimed its first victims, with two people dead and one missing in choppy waters off the coast of Taiwan's northeastern Yilan county, the coast guard said.

The high-speed rail and Taipei's metro system were operating as normal on Friday, though train services were expected to be hit on Saturday.

The typhoon has been labelled a category 3 storm on a scale of 1 to 5 by Tropical Storm Risk and was expected to rise to category 4 within hours. It had winds of 173 kph (107 mph) close to its centre, the Central Weather Bureau said, making it the strongest storm to threaten the island since 2013's Typhoon Usage.

It has already drawn comparisons to 2009's Typhoon Morakot, which levelled villages and killed dozens.

Soudelor has also spurred the end of a week-long protest by students in front of the island's ministry of education against revisions to national history textbooks.

The typhoon is then expected to cross the Taiwan Strait and hit the Chinese province of Fujian, where the government has already begun evacuating people who live on the coast.

Typhoons are common at this time of year in the South China Sea and Pacific, picking up strength from warm waters before losing strength over land.