Hong Kong raises Super Typhoon Saola alert to second-highest level

Super Typhoon Saola’s top wind speeds recorded at 220km/h as it approaches China’s southern coast.

Hong Kong’s weather observatory issued its second-highest alert over Super Typhoon Saola, which threatens to become the strongest storm to hit southern China in decades.

The Hong Kong Observatory called on the public not to go outside on Friday, to stay away from exposed doors and windows, and to find safe shelter. Tens of millions of people are in the powerful storm’s path.

“The increasing gale or storm signal Number 9 was issued at 6:20pm [10:20 GMT] on Friday. This means that winds are expected to increase significantly,” it said.

Saola’s wind speeds topped 220km/h (135 mph).

The weather would “deteriorate rapidly” throughout the day, the observatory said, warning of the possibility of serious flooding in low-lying coastal areas. Members of the public were also warned to stay away from the shoreline.

Dangerous storm surges of between one and three metres (3-10 feet) were expected, according to Al Jazeera weather presenter Jeff Harrington.

“This storm is teetering in on Category 5 hurricane status. It’s going to graze Hong Kong and Guangdong for sure but Macao is really going to be hit hard,” he said.

On China’s mainland, state media said Typhoon Saola would make landfall “in the coastal areas stretching from Huilai to Hong Kong” on Friday evening.

Guangdong province also declared a windstorm emergency level I – the highest level of emergency response.

China’s National Meteorological Centre issued a red alert and said more than 100,000 people have been relocated in eastern China’s Fujian province ahead of the typhoon’s arrival, the state-run Global Times media outlet reported.

Several Chinese cities delayed the start of the school year as a precaution and China Railway Guangzhou Group said nearly 4,000 trains were suspended between Thursday and Sunday, state media CCTV earlier reported.

A direct hit on Hong Kong is rare, but the observatory said it would “assess the need to issue higher tropical cyclone warning signals” in the evening.

Cathay Pacific airline said it cancelled all flights in and out of Hong Kong between 06:00 GMT on Friday and 02:00 GMT on Saturday. Budget airline HK Express also announced it was cancelling 70 Friday and Saturday flights in and out of Hong Kong.

China’s transport ministry has deployed 16 rescue and salvage ships and nine rescue helicopters to areas set to be hit by the storm, state news agency Xinhua said.

Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, reporting from Beijing, said Saola is expected to affect “more than 16 million people across nine different regions”.

“A significant part of southern China is essentially paralyzed in preparation for the storm to hit,” Yu said.

“On Friday across many cities, all schools and businesses were closed, as well as markets and malls and other retail stores,” she said.

Much public transport has also been halted, Yu added, including “ferries, busses, subways and many flights have also been grounded”.

“Some are saying this is one of the most severe typhoons to hit the region since 1949.”

In Macau, the government said that it had ordered the temporary closure of all casinos in the world’s biggest gambling hub due to take effect by 11pm (15:00GMT) on Friday as a safety precaution due to the imminent arrival of Typhoon Saola.

Saola passed just south of Taiwan on Wednesday before turning to mainland China, with the storm’s outer bands hitting the island’s southern cities with torrential rain

Saola also displaced thousands as it passed the northern Philippines, but no direct casualties have been reported so far.

A second typhoon, Haikui, is currently approaching Taiwan and is expected to make landfall on the northern part of the island on Sunday before heading towards the eastern Chinese city of Fuzhou, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau.

Southern China is frequently hit in the summer and autumn by typhoons that form in the warm oceans east of the Philippines and then travel west.

While they can cause temporary disruption to cities like Hong Kong and Macau, fatalities have become much less common thanks to stronger building codes and better flood management systems.

Interactive_Typhoon Saola

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies