China, H.K., Taiwan Brace as Year’s Strongest Storm Looms

Super Typhoon Usagi, the world’s strongest storm this year, lashed Taiwan with rain and wind as it swept past the southern part of the island, cutting electricity and forcing evacuations while disrupting cross-strait shipping with China.

Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau yesterday issued land and sea warnings, advising people to stay indoors as the storm approached the island’s southeast. As of 3:30 p.m. yesterday in Taipei, 3,000 people had been evacuated, the Central Emergency Operation Center said on its website. More than 88,000 households were without electricity as of 5 p.m. yesterday, state-run Taiwan Power said.

Usagi will probably make landfall on the central-eastern coast of China’s Guangdong province sometime from this afternoon to tomorrow morning, China’s Meteorological Administration said in a statement posted on its website yesterday.

At 6 a.m. Hong Kong time, the storm was about 430 kilometers (267 miles) east of Hong Kong, the city’s observatory said. Usagi is forecast to move west-northwest at 18 kilometers an hour, the observatory said. The agency also issued a strong wind signal, No. 3, which means maximum sustained winds of 41km-62km per hour are expected.

Shipping Disrupted

Shipping transportation between China and Taiwan was partially suspended as Usagi heads toward China’s coast, the official Xinhua news wire reported. All lines from Quanzhou to Kinmen were canceled today and most from Xiamen to Kinmen were halted, Xinhua said.

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., Hong Kong’s largest airline, and its unit Hong Kong Dragon Airlines Ltd. will stop Hong Kong operations from 6 p.m. today through Sept. 23, as the storm affects the city, the companies said in separate statements yesterday. The carriers advise passengers to defer non-essential travel on those days and will waive rebooking fees for all tickets issued on or before Sept. 20 for travel between today and Sept. 24, according to the statements.

Taiwan canceled 82 domestic and international flights yesterday and 33 were delayed, the emergency operation center said.

“Usagi will come rather close to the vicinity of the Pearl River Estuary” today and tomorrow and pose a severe threat to Hong Kong, the observatory said. Local winds are expected to strengthen gradually today, with weather deteriorating significantly amid rough seas and squally, heavy showers, the observatory said.

Super Typhoon

Usagi is the most powerful storm system globally this year by wind speed, Cheng Ming-Dean, director of Taiwan’s weather bureau forecast center, said by phone from Taipei Sept. 20. At its current maximum sustained wind speed, Usagi is equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, meaning “extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage,” according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center website.

Usagi was upgraded to a super typhoon on Sept. 19, according to the China Meteorological Administration. Super-typhoon intensity is reached when sustained winds are 185 kilometers per hour, according to the Hong Kong Observatory.

The threat of Usagi didn’t deter some business people in Hong Kong from operating as normal.

“We will still be open even under Typhoon Signal No. 8. or No. 10 as we have a group of loyal customers who will come,” Maggie Ho, a manager at Fu Sing restaurant, said by telephone yesterday, referring to two of the highest typhoon warning levels in the observatory’s rating system. “Based on past experience, we will be at least half-full under the typhoon.”

Seven Typhoons

The storm has already affected parts of the Philippines. Flooding forced 242 people in the north of the country to flee their homes for temporary shelters on Sept. 18, the country’s disaster agency said.

An average of seven typhoons are monitored by Taiwan authorities every year, with the greatest frequency from July through September, according to data from Taiwan’s weather bureau. Usagi would be the fourth typhoon to hit the island this year, it said.

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