Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hong Kong hunkers down for powerful typhoon Usagi

Last Updated: Sunday, September 22, 2013,

Hong Kong: Severe Typhoon Usagi barrelled towards Hong Kong Sunday, shutting down one of the world\'s busiest sea ports and throwing flight schedules into disarray, after killing two people in the Philippines and unleashing landslides in Taiwan.

Usagi -- which means rabbit in Japanese -- packed winds of 165 km per hour as it closed in on China\'s densely populated Pearl River Delta, forcing some residents in vulnerable areas to tape up windows and stock up on supplies.

The Hong Kong Observatory, issuing the second of a five-step tropical cyclone warning, said it was likely to bring \"severe\" disruption to the city with transport systems affected and expectations of high waves and localised flooding.

Cathay Pacific said it was cancelling all flights from 1530 IST Sunday. At the Chek Lap Kok airport, airline counters were besieged by anxious passengers hoping to rebook on earlier flights.

Hong Kong\'s Airport Authority said that by the end of Sunday, it expected to see 376 flights cancelled by Cathay and other airlines.

Operators at Hong Kong\'s maritime cargo port, one of the busiest in the world, ceased work late yesterday, stranding many giant tankers in sea channels not far from shore.

The financial hub is well versed in typhoon preparations and enforces strict building codes, so rarely suffers major loss of life as a result of tropical storms.

But the observatory warned against complacency, saying that Usagi was set to become the strongest storm to hit Hong Kong since 1979 when typhoon Hope killed a dozen people and injured 260.

Usagi was located about 370 km east of Hong Kong as of 0730 IST and was expected to make landfall in the evening. The observatory said a \"number eight\" storm signal was possible, which would shut down most public transport.

China\'s National Meteorological Centre issued a \"red alert\" -- its highest-level warning -- as it forecast gale-force winds and heavy rain.

Today was a regular day of business in China but in Xiamen city, on the coast of Fujian province, authorities called off school classes and suspended ferries to Taiwan.

En route to Hong Kong and southern China, Usagi forced the evacuation of some 3,400 people in southern Taiwan, dumped more than 27 inches of rain on Hualien city, and forced more than 100 flights to be cancelled to and from the island. A mudslide hit one hotel in a popular hot-spring resort area of Taiwan\'s Taitung county late yesterday, shattering windows and damaging some furniture.

\"I heard a loud sound and (the mudslide) came through the windows of the restaurant in the back. Our customers were safe but we estimate losses of USD 50,000,\" a hotel worker told reporters.
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