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Typhoon Saola slams southern China, batters HK

Over 880,000 people were evacuated across two Chinese provinces and trees were uprooted around Hong Kong
Workers clean up around a fallen tree caused by Typhoon Saola in a village in Lei Yue Mun in Hong Kong on Sept. 2

Workers clean up around a fallen tree caused by Typhoon Saola in a village in Lei Yue Mun in Hong Kong on Sept. 2. (Photo: AFP)

Published: September 02, 2023 04:44 AM GMT
Updated: September 02, 2023 04:47 AM GMT

Typhoon Saola roared ashore in southern China early Saturday as a weakened but still dangerous threat that has lashed Hong Kong and forced millions to hunker down for one of the region's strongest storms in decades.

Tens of millions of people across Hong Kong, Shenzhen and other southern Chinese megacities had braced for the menace of a cyclone rated as a super typhoon.

And while it delivered a fierce but glancing blow to the special administrative region, Saola -- now downgraded to a severe typhoon -- landed south of Hong Kong with its toughest blows.

China's National Meteorological Center said Saola made landfall at around 3:30 am Saturday (2030 GMT Friday) to the south of the city of Zhuhai in Guangdong province, south of casino hub Macau.

Over 880,000 people were evacuated across two Chinese provinces ahead of Saola making landfall, hundreds of flights were canceled across the region, and trees were uprooted around the rain-battered streets of Hong Kong.

China's national weather office predicted Saola "may become the strongest typhoon to make landfall in the Pearl River Delta since 1949", referring to a low-lying region that includes Hong Kong, Macau and much of Guangdong province.

With a direct hit possible, authorities in Hong Kong had raised the warning level Friday evening to the city's highest -- "T10" -- which had only been issued 16 times since World War II before Saola.

By 3:40 a.m., after more than seven long hours under T10, Hong Kong downgraded to level T8. But with dangerous gusts up to 139 kilometers (86 miles) per hour, they urged residents to remain vigilant.

"As gales and violent squalls are still occurring in places, precautions should not yet be relaxed," the Hong Kong Observatory warned in a bulletin.

Still, that marked a downgrade from 11:00 pm Friday, when Saola was just 30 kilometers south-southwest of the city, and packing sustained wind speeds of 185 kilometers per hour.

Hong Kong residents struggled with flailing umbrellas as they ran under the unrelenting rainfall, while people wearing plastic bags on their heads rushed home past sandbags stacked in waterfront areas to prevent flooding.

The observatory said "the maximum water level may reach a historical record", warning that "there will be serious flooding".

The last time Hong Kong issued a T10 warning was in 2018, when Typhoon Mangkhut slammed into the city, shredding trees and unleashing floods, and leaving more than 300 people injured.

In mainland China, Mangkhut killed six people and impacted the lives of more than three million others.

Across the mainland border in neighboring Guangdong province, authorities evacuated more than 780,000 people from high-risk areas, while eastern Fujian province saw more than 100,000 moved to safer ground.

Trains in and out of Guangdong were also suspended until 6:00 pm Saturday, while the national flood defense agency raised its emergency response for prevention to its second-highest level.

"It's going to affect our life," said Wu Wenlai, 43, who had to close his restaurant in a Shenzhen suburb.

"My eldest son was planning to fly to Chengdu today for university and his flight has been canceled now."

More intense typhoons 

Southern China is frequently hit in summer and autumn by typhoons that form in the warm oceans east of the Philippines and then travel west.

Climate change has increased the intensity of tropical storms, with more rain and stronger gusts leading to flash floods and coastal damage, experts say.

In Hong Kong, authorities received at least seven confirmed cases of flooding, as well as nearly 40 reports of downed trees. The city's hospital authority reported seven people seeking medical treatment during Saola.

Businesses taped up their glass displays and windows, while high-rise buildings swayed under the whipping gusts.

In eastern Heng Fa Chuen -- a coastal residential area and the site of devastation during 2018's Typhoon Mangkhut -- officers in orange vests urged storm watchers to go home, as trees leaned sideways from the heavy gusts.

In the low-lying fishing village of Lei Yue Mun, which is prone to flooding, water seeped into shops, prompting residents to set up sandbags and board up doors.

"I hope we can save the tools needed for our business, like the fridge. We elevated them so the water wouldn't damage the (electronics)," a restaurant operator surnamed Lee told a local TV station.

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