Taiwan braced for a direct hit from Typhoon Soudelor on Friday as the storm took dead aim at the island and was expected to make landfall in a matter of hours, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

An eight-year-old girl died after being swept out to sea as Soudelor churned straight for the island, forcing thousands to flee and troops to be placed on standby, officials told the South China News.

The typhoon packed sustained winds of 126 mph and gusts up to 155, making it the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane.

The storm is expected to maintain Category 3 strength as it makes landfall, AccuWeather said. “Residents of Taiwan should prepare for a direct strike by a major typhoon,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Dave Samuhel.

Heavy rain of up to 20 inches and howling wind gusts are the main threats from the storm, AccuWeather said.

More than 2,000 people have already been relocated from Taiwan’s outlying islands, popular with tourists, and troops were preparing to help more residents move from their homes into shelters, the South China News reported.

All of Taiwan’s schools and offices were closed Saturday due to the typhoon, the China News said.

Travel across the island was seriously affected by Typhoon Soudelor, with even high-speed trains staying inside until Saturday, the Taiwan News reported. Numerous other train journeys, flights and ferry services had also been canceled due to the approaching storm.

The current forecast track takes Soudelor straight across central Taiwan, which is both mountainous and extremely landslide-prone, according to Dave Petley, a landslide expert at the University of East Anglia (U.K.).

“The extreme rainfall totals generated by typhoons combined with the steep mountain front in eastern Taiwan means that the landslide potential for Typhoon Soudelor is very high,” Petley wrote in his blog. Heavy rain from Typhoon Morakot in 2009 caused catastrophic landslides in Taiwan that killed at least 500 people.

In addition to the potential for deaths and injuries from the storm, it is likely to be a $1 billion economic loss for Taiwan and China, meteorologist Steve Bowen of Aon Benfield said in a tweet. Typhoon Soudelor will be the first typhoon to make landfall in Taiwan this year, the China Post said.

Soudelor reached its peak intensity late Monday with winds near 180 mph, making it the strongest storm anywhere on the planet this year, AccuWeather said. After hitting Taiwan, the typhoon will head for China by Saturday.