Downgraded to tropical storm as hunt for mudslide victims continues in Taiwan.
Typhoon Megi lashes Taiwan, then China
BEIJING // The tropical storm Megi hit southern China yesterday, toppling billboards and whipping up rough seas as rescue efforts in Taiwan continued for dozens left missing in mudslides.
More than 270,000 people had been evacuated from at-risk areas in China by the time Megi made landfall in Fujian province in the south-east of the country early in the afternoon.
Forecasters said Megi, which weakened considerably yesterday and was downgraded to a tropical storm, would continue to lose power as it moved inland.
The authorities in Taiwan yesterday continued searching for 26 people missing as mudslides buried vehicles after Megi tore through the island on Friday.
The confirmed death toll rose to 12, including nine people killed when the temple they were sheltering in was hit by a mudslide. Three nuns and a toddler were among the dead.
Most of those still missing on the island were among a group of tourists from mainland China whose bus was hit by mud and rocks on an east coast road.
Also unaccounted for were a Chinese tour guide and a Taiwanese driver. They reportedly stayed behind to help with rescue efforts and went missing when their bus was hit by rocks and mud and toppled down a slope.
Mud and water cascaded onto the road at devastating speed, according to a Taiwanese tour guide who escaped.
"Mudslides are like waterfalls. Within three minutes the bus was filled with water, 10 minutes later the bus was buried," he said, according to an interview broadcast on China Central Television (CCTV).
Several locals were missing after their vehicles were buried on the same road, which links the coastal town of Suao with the city of Hualien.
The Taiwanese president, Ma Ying-jeou, insisted the country "won't give up on any chance of finding the missing".
"We have dispatched special forces and other rescuers to continue the search," he said.
By last night, the several hundred people stranded by blocked roads were reported to have all been rescued.
Damage to agriculture in Taiwan was put at 45 million Taiwanese dollars (Dh5.36m), while the economic costs increased through the continued suspension yesterday of some air and sea services.
At its peak, Megi was gusting at up to 260kph and was rated as the strongest storm in the world so far this year. However, by yesterday sustained winds were down to 101kph and gusts were up to 126kph. The storm was still expected to bring 100mm of rain.
Although thousands of fishing boats had been ordered to stay in port on China's south-east coast near to where the typhoon made landfall, 16 people were missing yesterday after their fishing boat capsized further north near the mouth of the Yangtze river.
Two people from the stricken vessel were rescued, and the authorities were searching for more survivors.
Television pictures in Fujian province showed large waves, billboards being blown down and trees bending in heavy winds. Streets were flooded in the coastal city of Zhangzhou.
In a statement, China's national meteorological centre told people to stay indoors. "If you are already outside, do not shelter from the rain near temporary structures, billboards, iron masts and trees," the statement added.
Initial projections had suggested Megi would make landfall farther west and residents in areas including Hong Kong had been preparing for the worst.
However, over the past few days the system followed a more northern trajectory, sparing provinces such as Hainan, an island that has already suffered two bouts of flooding this month. Meteorologists said Megi was the 13th typhoon to hit China this year.
It was the strongest storm to hit the Philippines in four years when, as a super typhoon, it made landfall on Monday in north-east Luzon.
The death toll there has reached 36 after the storm downed power lines, destroyed vehicles and tore the roofs off houses.
* The National, with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse