x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Typhoon Usagi on path of destruction through Philippines, Taiwan

HONG KONG // One of the strongest storms of the year barrelled towards Hong Kong and southern China on Friday, prompting warnings of fierce winds and torrential rains.

Packing gusts of up to 205kph, Super Typhoon Usagi is projected to roar between the Philippines and Taiwan before smashing into the southern Chinese coast later in the weekend.

On Friday it was centred 1,120 kilometres southeast of Hong Kong.

“It is the strongest typhoon in the west Pacific region this year,” a weather forecaster at the Taiwan Central Weather Bureau said.

Philippine authorities evacuated some 240 people in the northern agricultural province of Tarlac, while ferries were restricted to their ports, stranding travellers.

A signal-four alert was issued for the Batanes island group in the extreme north of the country, warning large trees could be uprooted, plantations flattened and power and communications infrastructure knocked out.

Emergency relief services were also put on heightened alert, with the Red Cross already stockpiling first aid kits and food packs in some areas.

“Damage to affected communities can be very heavy,” the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration said. “The situation is potentially very destructive to communities. All travel and outdoor activities should be cancelled.”

The country’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said Usagi would cause intense rainfall of 10-20 millimetres per hour within a 700-kilometre range.

Hong Kong officials warned of worsening weather there.

“Weather will deteriorate significantly with strengthening winds and rough seas,” the Hong Kong observatory said. Its tropical cyclone track map showed the storm would hit the city late on Sunday.

The typhoon is expected to be downgraded to “severe” by the time it makes landfall in the territory, according to the observatory, still enough to stop metro and ferry services and curtail air travel.

Typhoon Usagi is set to brush the southern tip of Taiwan on Saturday morning, expected to bring fierce winds and torrential rains, possibly leading to landslides.

Taiwan’s defence ministry deployed more than 1,600 soldiers in “high risk” areas prone to flooding and landslides while placing 24,000 others on standby.

The island’s weather bureau issued a warning to the residents of Taitung, Kaohsiung and the Pingtung areas to take special precautions, as television news footage showed people surfing on waves whipped up by Usagi.

Mainland Chinese weather authorities have issued a “yellow” alert, state media reported, the third-highest on its four-tier warning system, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Disaster officials urged local authorities to prepare for emergencies while telling people to be wary of landslides, falling stones and floods.

* Agence France-Presse