Hong Kong, other parts of south China grind to near standstill as Super Typhoon Saola edges closer


HONG KONG (AP) — Most of Hong Kong and other parts of southern China ground to a near standstill Friday with classes and flights canceled as Super Typhoon Saola edged closer.

The typhoon could make a landfall in southern China and many workers stayed at home. Students in various cities saw the start of their school year postponed to next week. Hong Kong’s stock market trading was suspended and more than 400 flights were canceled or delayed in the key center for regional business and travel.

Mainland Chinese rail authorities ordered all trains entering or leaving Guangdong province to be suspended from Friday night to early evening Saturday, state media CCTV reported.

The Hong Kong Observatory raised a No. 8 typhoon signal, the third-highest warning under the city’s weather system, early Friday. Its forecast said Saola — with maximum sustained winds of 210 kilometers (130 miles) per hour — would be closest to the financial hub on Friday night and Saturday morning, skirting within about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the city’s shopping district Tsim Sha Tsui.

The observatory’s director, Chan Pak-wai, said Thursday the alert might be upgraded to a No. 10 signal if the strength of the winds reached hurricane levels. The No. 10 hurricane signal is the highest warning under its system and was last hoisted when Super Typhoon Mangkhut hit Hong Kong in 2018.

Chan expected the winds would gradually weaken Saturday as the typhoon moves away from Hong Kong.

The observatory warned serious flooding might occur in low-lying coastal areas and that the maximum water level might be similar to that when Mangkhut felled trees and tore scaffolding off buildings under construction in the city.

As the city braced for heavy rains and strong winds Friday morning, about 190 people sought refuge at temporary shelters, with some ferry and bus services halted. Residents living in low-lying areas had placed sand bags at their doors to prevent their homes being flooded. The government received two reports of fallen trees and three flooding cases. One man was injured during the typhoon period and sought treatment at a public hospital.

Weather authorities in the nearby casino hub of Macao also warned of flooding, forecasting that the water level might reach up to 1.5 meters (5 feet) in low-lying areas Saturday morning. The cross-border bridge connecting Hong Kong, Macao and Zhuhai city would be closed in mid-afternoon.

In the technology and finance hub Shenzhen, its emergency management bureau ordered to suspend work and businesses starting from late afternoon, as the typhoon was expected to make landfall in the city or its nearby areas on Friday night. All entries to highways in the city would be banned starting from 7 p.m. until further notice, except for rescue crews.

China’s National Meteorological Center said Saola could make landfall from Huidong County to Taishan city in Guangdong province, neighboring Hong Kong, between Friday night and Saturday morning. But it also did not rule out it would move west near the shore of central Guangdong.

Another storm, Haikui, was gradually moving toward the coastal areas of eastern China. Coupled with the influence of Saola, parts of Guangdong, Fujian and Zhejiang provinces would see strong winds and heavy rains, according to a website run by China Meteorological Administration. By Thursday night, some 100,000 people living in dangerous areas in Fujian were relocated to other safer places.

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. The typhoon also lashed the Philippines earlier this week, displacing tens of thousands of people in the northern part of the islands because of flooding.

In recent months, China had some of the heaviest rains and deadliest flooding in years across various regions, with scores killed, including in outlying mountainous parts of the capital Beijing.

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