Taiwan, China on alert as powerful typhoon nears

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Taiwanese and Chinese forecasters issued alerts on Saturday as the most powerful typhoon so far this year headed their way as it churned through Japan's subtropical islands.

Typhoon Fanapi was 420 kilometres (300 miles) east of Taiwan and some 150 kilometres southeast of Japan's Miyako island shortly before noon Tokyo time (0300 GMT) on Saturday, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

The agency warned of heavy rain, strong wind and high waves for the southern Japanese Miyako island chain, with a number of flights cancelled, although there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

The typhoon, packing gusts of up to 191 kilometres per hour, is the 11th of the year, Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau reported on its website.

"It's likely to have made landfall by Sunday at noon," said Hsieh Ming-chang, an official with the bureau.

As the typhoon gathered speed, the bureau issued both sea and land warnings, urging residents to take necessary precautions.

Counties along Taiwan's east coast, including Taitung, Yilan and Hualien, had decided to cancel all classes beginning from Saturday evening, the TVBS cable network reported.

TVBS reported that Taiwan would likely experience the most serious impact on Sunday, but that the typhoon could linger until early Monday.

The typhoon was forecast to make landfall on the Chinese mainland on Sunday night or Monday morning, China's Xinhua news agency said.

"Fanapi" means "small atoll islands" in certain Micronesian languages.

Thousands of indigenous villagers were left homeless when Typhoon Morakot ravaged Taiwan last year, leaving more than 700 people dead or missing in one of the island's worst natural disasters.