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Typhoon Haikui prompts Taiwan to evacuate thousands, cancel flights

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TAIPEI (Reuters) -Domestic flights were cancelled and almost 3,000 people were evacuated as Taiwan girded for the arrival of Typhoon Haikui on Sunday, which is expected to bring torrential rain and strong winds to the island’s south and east.

Haikui is forecast to make landfall in the mountainous and sparsely populated far southeast of Taiwan late Sunday afternoon. Counties and cities in the east and south cancelled classes and declared a day off for workers.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen told a meeting of disaster management officials this would be the first typhoon to make landfall on the island and cross its central mountain range in four years.

People should avoid going out and not go up mountains, to the coast, fishing or engage in water sports, a statement from Tsai’s office quoted her as saying.

Haikui is a much weaker storm than Typhoon Saola which hit Hong Kong and the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on Saturday. Haikui is expected to be only a Category 1 or 2 typhoon when it hits Taiwan, according to Tropical Storm Risk.

Taiwan’s government said that 2,868 people had already been evacuated, mainly in the south and east.

Taiwan’s two main domestic airlines, UNI Air and Mandarin Airlines, cancelled all flights on Sunday, while ferry services to surrounding islands were cancelled as well.

There was less disruption to international flights, with only 37 cancelled for Sunday, the Civil Aeronautics Administration said.

The military has mobilised soldiers and equipment to help with flood relief and evacuation efforts.

After passing across southern Taiwan, Haikui is forecast to cross the Taiwan Strait into China.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Edwina Gibbs)

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