x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

China on alert as typhoon Megi nears

Storm is expected to reach mainland this morning, as south-east provinces shut down and prepare to be hit with brunt of damage.

BEIJING // Typhoon Megi last night threatened severe disruption to south-east China, with ports shuttered, flights cancelled and tourist venues closed as the area braced itself for the onslaught.

With the death toll from Megi's destruction this week in the Philippines rising to 36, the typhoon's winds and rains yesterday caused havoc in Taiwan, flattening buildings, knocking down trees and blocking roads.

At least three people, including two nuns, were killed when a temple in the north-east of the island collapsed.

Unconfirmed Taiwan state media reports said five bodies had been recovered at the temple in the coastal town of Suao and a fire department official warned the death toll there could rise.

"We don't know for sure how many people might be trapped in the temple," he said. "We're still digging."

There were also reports of 10 people missing in the area. A further 20 people, mostly Chinese tourists, were unaccounted for on the island when their buses were trapped on a damaged highway.

About 400 people were stranded when their cars were hemmed in by mudslides, although 70 were airlifted out and the rest were expected to be freed when rescuers cleared the road. Firefighters and soldiers brought food to many of the travellers, China's Xinhua news agency reported.

Meteorologists on the island said they expected the rains to ease today as Megi weakened and continued its path towards the south-east coast of China.

Megi was expected to reach the mainland this morning, with the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong expected to bear the brunt of the damage.

"Megi could bring the largest concentration of rainfall this year and will have a serious impact on the province's coast," said Fujian's civil affairs department in a statement.

More than 170,000 people have been evacuated, most of them in Fujian province, and the fishing industry effectively closed down until the threat clears, with vessels banned from leaving port.

In some areas school classes have been suspended and dozens of flights cancelled, affecting thousands of passengers. Some ferry and train services have also been cancelled.

Oil terminals off the Chinese coast have been shut down as the threat of severe weather grew, adding to the financial cost.

The bill could rise if, as officials have warned, the typhoon causes widespread damage.

"The typhoon is strong. It is moving slowly, but may bring severe damage to Fujian," said Sun Chunlan, the Fujian communist party chief .

In Xiamen city in Fujian province, near to where meteorologists were predicting the typhoon would make landfall, a tourist island several hundred metres off the mainland was closed, while shipping services were suspended, Xinhua reported.

Megi is the 13th typhoon to affect China in 2010 and the strongest storm worldwide in 2010.

At its most powerful, it has produced gusts of up to 260kph, although yesterday it was losing force and sustained winds were measured at 140kph.

Despite the warnings of disruption, some residents close to the projected path of the typhoon insisted they were not worried.

Rachel Mao, the assistant manager of the Best Western Fuzhou Fortune Hotel in Fuzhou, Fujian, said the region regularly suffered severe storms during this time of year.

"The typhoon is very, very familiar. In this season there's a lot of typhoons here," she said by telephone yesterday afternoon.

"I think the government will give some guidelines and I don't think it will cause problems."

Officials insisted Megi would not affect the Asian Games, which begin in Guangzhou, the Guangdong capital, on November 12. While the Pearl River that runs through the city is set to rise by about 50cm, according to a Xinhua report, the authorities said they could cope.

"But we are well prepared for the worst. The Asian Games will be held on time and in good quality," one official was quoted as saying.

As it tore through the Philippines after making landfall there on Monday morning, typhoon Megi toppled power lines and trees, tore roofs from buildings and destroyed vehicles.

More than 32,000 people are still living in evacuation centres and the cost of the damage has been put at 7.6 billion pesos (Dh644 million).



* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse