The most powerful typhoon of the year brought torrential rain and ferocious winds to Taiwan yesterday, leaving tens of thousands without power and throwing travel plans into disarray as it barreled toward Hong Kong.
Typhoon Usagi weakened from a super typhoon — those with sustained winds of at least 241 kilometers per hour — and veered westward during the day, likely sparing southern Taiwan from the most destructive winds near its eye. At least two people were killed in the Philippines, and two others were missing.
By yesterday evening, the storm, which had a massive diameter of 1,100 kilometers, had maximum sustained winds of 173kph and gusts of up to 209kph. It was 150 kilometers southwest of Taiwan’s southernmost point, the island’s weather bureau said.
But gusts exceeding 230kph were recorded on the Taiwan administered island of Lanyu, with dangerous winds buffeting the holiday resort of Kending on the Hengchun peninsula as the storm made its closest approach to the area.
The Hong Kong Observatory said Usagi was 530 kilometers east-southeast of the city. It said the storm’s maximum sustained winds would weaken to 165kph as it approaches Hong Kong this afternoon before making landfall overnight. The observatory issued a No. 3 Standby Signal and warned the storm posed a “severe threat” to the city.
Cathay Pacific Airways and Dragonair said flights yesterday were unaffected except for one canceled flight, but both airlines said flights to and from Hong Kong International Airport would be canceled from 6pm today and resume tomorrow if conditions permit.
China’s National Meteorological Center announced a red alert, its highest level, as the storm maintained its track toward the manufacturing heartland of the Pearl River Delta. The observatory warned Usagi would impact coastal areas of Guangdong, Zhejiang and Fujian provinces.
In Taiwan, more than 3,000 people were evacuated from flood-prone areas and mountainous regions as the government deployed military personnel into potential disaster zones. The storm system dumped up to 52 centimeters of rain along the eastern and southern coasts in a 20-hour period, with officials warning that more than 100 centimeters could fall before the storm leaves today.
Local officials closed mountain highways blocked by landslides and suspended train services connecting the east and west coasts as power outages and rising floodwaters affected thousands of homes.
Rivers swollen with fast-moving water and debris thrown down from steep and unstable mountain catchment areas threatened bridges on both sides of the island.
Southern Chinese coastal provinces have evacuated residents, issued alerts and canceled shipping lines as Usagi is expected to hammer the Pearl River Delta region between this afternoon and tomorrow morning.
Guangdong has increased the number of salvage forces. More than 44,000 fishing boats and 19,000 fishermen have been told to return to harbors and land.
Meanwhile, Fujian Province has evacuated more than 80,000 people and deployed over 50,000 disaster relief personnel.
“Typhoon Usagi is strong and dangerous. It poses quite significant threats to Fujian,” said Su Shulin, governor of the province. Su told officials to be prepared.
Shipping transport between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan has been partially suspended.
Most shipping lines from Xiamen City in Fujian to Kinmen and all lines from Quanzhou City to Kinmen were canceled yesterday.
Meanwhile, the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region government has issued alerts and officials in Hainan Province were told to step up their typhoon watch.
In the Philippines, a 50-year-old man and a 20-year-old woman drowned when a passenger boat capsized in rough waters off northeastern Aurora Province, the Office of Civil Defense said yesterday. Two people were missing, but the other nine passengers and crew members were rescued.