TAIPEI (Reuters) - China evacuated over 600,000 people from coastal areas on Monday after typhoon Haitang slammed into Taiwan, killing up to four people, injuring 25 and forcing offices, schools and markets to shut across the island.
At 1300 GMT, Haitang was packing maximum winds of 144 km/h (89 mph), down from a previous 184 km/h, and gusts of up to 180 km/h, weaker than the earlier 227 km/h, said Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau.
If the typhoon stays on its present course, it will hit China's southeastern coast on Tuesday afternoon.
"Based on our current forecast data, it should make landfall in mainland China around 2 p.m. local time," said Daniel Wu, director of the bureau's forecasting centre, noting the margin of error was around two to three hours.
The official death toll in Taiwan stood at one -- a man killed by falling rocks -- but the National Fire Agency said another three bodies had been found. They were not included in the official tally as the cause of death is still being investigated.
Another person was swept away while fishing, the agency said, and 25 people had been injured in the storm, which was weakening as it swept southwest across Taiwan towards China's coastal rice-growing provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian.
Weather forecasters warned torrential rain would continue to hammer the island through to Wednesday, but Taipei and most local governments said business will resume on Tuesday.
LANDSLIDES AND FLOODS
Haitang has already dumped over 1 metre of rain on mountainous areas in the northeast, prompting the government to warn of potentially deadly landslides and flash floods.
Across the strait, authorities in China's Fujian and Zhejiang provinces ordered back to port some 17,000 fishing and merchant ships with a total of more than 300,000 aboard, the Xinhua news agency reported.
On land, officials in the rice-growing region evacuated 600,000 with homes in the storm's projected path, Xinhua said.
Travel services were suspended and seaside hotels in Fujian closed to guests.
In normally bustling Taipei, the lashing winds emptied streets for most of the day as residents hunkered down at home to ride out the first typhoon to make landfall this year.
The northern city is Taiwan's political and financial centre and home to the world's tallest building, the 508 m (1,667 ft) Taipei 101, which was built to withstand the strongest typhoon in a 100-year cycle, or gale-force winds of 216 km/h.
Howling winds uprooted trees. Street signs and billboards lay toppled on the roads. Sandbags lined the doors of shops and homes. International and domestic flights were suspended, railways stopped running and seaports stopped loading.
Taiwan's oil refineries were operating normally, however.
"There were strong gusts of wind every five or six minutes, forcing me to stop my scooter when I was riding to work," said David Lin, a security guard in Taipei. "Every time I heard a loud noise I was afraid I would be hit by debris," he said.
In 2001, one of Taiwan's deadliest years for storms, Typhoon Toraji killed 200 people. A few months later, Typhoon Nari caused Taipei's worst flooding on record and killed 100.
Among Chinese cities threatened by the storm is the manufacturing hub of Wenzhou -- which churns out everything from cigarette lighters to shoes -- where heavy rain was expected from Monday evening and nearly 80,000 people were evacuated.
Typhoons gather strength from warm sea waters and tend to dissipate after making landfall. They frequently hit Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong and southern China during a season that starts in early summer and lasts until late autumn.
(Additional reporting by Tiffany Wu in Taipei and Lindsay Beck in Beijing)
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