Super Typhoon Nepartak was closing in on Taiwan on Friday, forcing schools and offices to shut and the cancellation of more than 100 flights.
Soldiers went door-to-door in remote mountainous areas in eastern Hualien and Taitung counties, urging villagers to leave their homes for shelters, while supermarket shelves in Taipei were stripped.
Soldiers were also seen on beaches filing sandbags to be sent to low-lying areas in anticipation of the storm, which forced hundreds to evacuate and is expected to make landfall at 5am on Friday, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau.
One man drowned off a beach in Hualien county, the coastguard said, but did not confirm if his death was weather-related.
The powerful typhoon was packing gusts of up to 152 miles an hour as it moved towards the island’s east coast.
“As the typhoon has been slowing its pace, we now forecast it could make landfall some time between 5am and 6am Friday,” an official at the weather bureau told AFP.
The storm is expected to dump torrential rain across the whole island with mountainous areas forecast to get up to 36 inches in total, potentially triggering landslides.
Residents should “keep an eye out on possible landslides, falling rocks, flash water flooding,” the bureau warned in a statement.
All fishing boats have been called back to port as waves – some as high as 46 feet, according to reports – battered the eastern coast.
The government said financial markets, schools and offices would all be closed Friday.
More than 1,300 people were evacuated from their homes in eastern and southern areas prone to landslides, according to the Central Emergency Operation Center.
Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan said his office had “prepared for the worst”, and had deployed nearly 4,400 soldiers around the island along with hundreds of vehicles, including 14 amphibious vehicles.
More than 35,000 soldiers are also on standby to help with evacuations and disaster relief, while shelters have been set up across the island.
Most domestic flights were grounded while 106 international flights affected, Taipei’s two main airports said.
Dozens of ferries have also been cancelled while crowds packed onto trains along the east coast, before the railway is shut later Thursday evening.
The high-speed rail was running as normal on Thursday but is expected to be closed for most of Friday.
The popular tourist spots of Green Island and Orchid Island, which began evacuating thousands of visitors on Tuesday, closed schools and offices on Thursday.
A number of outdoor events across Taiwan, including a hot air balloon festival in Taitung, have been cancelled or postponed.
Conditions are expected to deteriorate significantly before the storm hits, the weather bureau said.
The storm had a radius of 200km and was moving at a speed of 14kph Thursday evening, slightly slower than earlier in the day.
The storm is forecast to hit southern China after battering Taiwan.
Last year Super typhoon Dujuan killed three people and left more than 300 injured in Taiwan, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
In 2009, Typhoon Morakot devastated the island, killing more than 600 people, most of them buried in huge landslides in the south.