Hong Kong shuts down for typhoon

2011-09-29 11:03

Hong Kong - Hong Kong shut down on Thursday as deadly Typhoon Nesat swept past, with hurricane-force winds forcing the closure of financial markets, schools and transport services.

The Hong Kong Observatory issued a number eight tropical cyclone warning at 04:40 as winds gusting up to 121km/h were recorded in some exposed areas, though the winds subsided later.

The high winds felled trees and kept most businesses closed, leaving the city's normally bustling central business district eerily quiet during morning rush hour, with only a few people struggling to work on foot.

At least three people were injured - two when a piece of scaffolding hit a taxi and another was struck by a falling tree, according to public broadcaster RTHK.

Flights cancelled

About 50 people were evacuated from their flats after a barge slipped its moorings and crashed into nearby railings, the broadcaster said. The government has opened typhoon shelters for people who want to seek refuge.

Financial markets, courts, schools and government buildings are all closed and ferry services suspended during a number eight typhoon signal. Hong Kong, a major shipping hub, also suspended port services.

Eight flights were cancelled and 83 flights from Hong Kong International Airport were delayed as of noon, a spokesperson from the airport authority told AFP, and the city's huge fleet of public buses was brought to a near-standstill.

Weather forecasters said they would consider lowering the signal if winds subside as the typhoon headed towards the tropical Chinese island of Hainan.

"In the past few hours, Nesat has moved west-northwest steadily in the general direction of Hainan island and Leizhou and moved away from Hong Kong," the observatory said in an update at 12:45.

"When Nesat moves further away from Hong Kong and the local winds subside later today, the observatory will consider issuing the number 3 strong wind signal," it added.

In the observatory's typhoon warning scale, signal number 10 is the highest signal, indicating a direct hit.

Neck-deep floodwaters in Philippines

Weather officials said the typhoon was centred about 390km southwest of Hong Kong and was expected to move across the northern part of the South China Sea towards Hainan and western parts of Guangdong province.

A similar number eight warning was hoisted in Macau, which is an hour's ferry ride from Hong Kong, suspending public transportation and closing schools.

Tens of thousands of people in the Philippines were battling neck-deep floodwaters after Nesat claimed at least 35 lives, and authorities said the toll was likely to rise.

Strongest typhoon in six years

Nesat smashed into the Philippines' main island of Luzon on Tuesday, bringing heavy rains and wind that caused storm surges and massive flooding.

The number eight warning is the highest storm signal raised by Hong Kong this year.

Meanwhile, Nesat is expected to be the strongest typhoon to hit Hainan in six years.

Schools were closed, thousands of people living on the popular tourist island have been evacuated and fishing boats have been called back to harbour as the storm approaches, local media reported.

Water sports and mountain climbing have been banned during the upcoming national day holidays, according to China's People's Daily website.