TAIPEI - Tropical Storm Kong-Rey pounded southern Taiwan with torrential rain on Thursday, triggering widespread flooding and disrupting air and rail traffic, the government said.

Houses in the island’s south were inundated by floodwater as deep as three metres (almost 10 feet) after heavy rain started to fall from late Wednesday, according to the National Fire Agency.

Television footage showed rescuers carrying patients from a nursing home to rubber boats in Tainan county before dawn while cars were stranded in nearby Chiayi, two of the worst affected areas.

“The water quickly came up as deep as waist height and it was flooded in about 15 minutes,” a staffer at the nursing home told reporters. Rescuers were searching for a fisherman who was missing after his boat capsized on Wednesday off the northeast coast, according to the fire agency.

Most offices and schools were closed in southern Taiwan, where up to 600 millimetres (23 inches) of rain had fallen since Tuesday, the government said.

More than 30 domestic and international flights to or from either the capital Taipei or the second city of Kaohsiung had been cancelled while Taiwan Railway Administration also suspended some services in the south.

As of 0400 GMT, the storm was 100 kilometres (around 60 miles) northeast of Taipei, moving north at 18 kilometres per hour and packing gusts of 108 kilometres per hour, said the Central Weather Bureau.

“Kong-Rey is losing some strength but it will continue to affect Taiwan with torrential rain, especially in southern areas,” the bureau said, warning that the bad weather would gradually move to the north.

Although the storm was not likely to make landfall, the military stepped up its preparations and ordered more than 50,000 troops to be on standby.

Tropical Storm Trami hit Taiwan last week, forcing authorities to close offices and cancel nearly 200 international flights.