TAITUNG, Sept 3 (AFP) - Nearly 3,000 people were evacuated from high-risk areas in eastern Taiwan Province ahead of Typhoon Haikui as authorities prepared Sunday for the first tropical storm to directly hit the island in four years.

Haikui — which had already brought heavy rains by Sunday morning — is packing a sustained wind speed of about 140 kilometers per hour, and is expected to make landfall in Taiwan's eastern Taitung area by 5pm (9am GMT).

Schools and offices around the southern and eastern parts of the island were closed on Sunday, and more than 200 domestic flights canceled.

The storm was around 180 kilometers east of Taiwan just before 9am, local weather authorities said in a press conference.

More than 2,800 people across seven cities in Taiwan have been evacuated, the majority of them from the mountainous county of Hualien.

The streets of Hualien were deserted Sunday morning, battered by unrelenting torrential rain under dark skies.

Haikui is expected to be less severe than Saola, which bypassed Taiwan but triggered the highest threat level in nearby Hong Kong and southern China before it weakened into a tropical storm by Saturday.