x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

China moves 160,000 away from Typhoon Megi

State forecaster says world's strongest storm this year could destroy cities as country issues red warning.

Paramilitary policemen evacuate locals as Typhoon Megi approaches Zhongshan in Guangdong province, China.
Paramilitary policemen evacuate locals as Typhoon Megi approaches Zhongshan in Guangdong province, China.

BEIJING // More than 160,000 people have been moved to safety as China prepares for the onslaught of Typhoon Megi.

The world's strongest storm this year is expected to reach the southern coast of China tonight or tomorrow morning, days after tearing through the northern Philippines.

In Fujian province, more than 150,000 people have been evacuated and 53,100 fishing boats ordered by the government to return to port, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. At least 10,000 people have been evacuated in neighbouring Guangdong province.

A shipping lane between Fujian and Taiwan was closed yesterday, while warnings said huge waves could cause severe damage to coastal areas.

The most serious of four levels of alert, a red warning, was yesterday issued by the Chinese authorities, paving the way for measures to evacuate residents.

"The storm surge could be so devastating that buildings, docks, villages and cities could be destroyed by it," Bai Yiping, the director of South China Sea Forecasting Centre of the State Oceanic Administration, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

He said Megi, which would become the 13th typhoon to hit China this year, could cause the worst storm surges seen for 50 years. Waves have been predicted to reach up to seven metres.

"We expect that the strong winds and torrential rain brought by Megi will increase the probability of geological disasters happening in the south such as floods and land and mudslides," China's National Meteorological Centre said.

Orders have gone out for seawalls to be strengthened, while offshore oil and gas terminals have been shut down.

Some Chinese provinces already heavily affected by floods in recent weeks, such as the island of Hainan, are likely to suffer further from Megi, although the typhoon is set to make landfall further east than earlier thought. After exiting the Philippines, it continued to travel west before turning north.

Taiwanese officials have also issued an alert warning of severe sea conditions, and said heavy rains could hit the island.

Yesterday, the United States Joint Typhoon Warning Centre reported the storm's sustained winds had dropped in strength from 213kph to 185kph. Megi, which means catfish in Korean, is the most severe storm worldwide this year and at times has been gusting to 260kph. It is the strongest storm the north-west Pacific has seen for two decades.

Hong Kong forecasters said the typhoon was packing winds of 175kph and warned it could become more powerful, saying it was indicating "signs of intensification". Other forecasts said it might weaken before making landfall.

Already flooding has killed more than 2,000 in China this year.

The death toll from Megi's trail on the Philippine island of Luzon rose to 27 yesterday. The typhoon had arrived on Monday, downing power lines, felling trees and destroying homes and vehicles.

Officials estimated the total damage to infrastructure, agriculture, fisheries and schools at 4.83 billion pesos (Dh410 million). More than 23,000 people yesterday remained in evacuation centres.

However, officials have said preparations by the authorities helped to limit the death toll, in stark contrast to the situation in July when Typhoon Conson changed course and struck an unprepared Manila, killing 102 people.

Bong Austero, a columnist in the Manila Standard Today newspaper, praised the "seemingly well co-ordinated disaster preparedness".

"Efforts were made to make sure that what happened last year was not repeated," he wrote.



* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg