Super Typhoon Usagi, the most powerful storm of the year, has brought torrential rain and ferocious winds to Taiwan, leaving tens of thousands without power and throwing travel plans into disarray as it barrelled towards Hong Kong.
Southern Taiwan was battered by the storm on Saturday, which rolled past the Batanes island group in the far north of the Philippines overnight – tearing coconut trees in half – and headed on towards the Chinese mainland.
By 11am, Usagi was 610 kilometres southeast of Hong Kong, forcing local carrier Cathay Pacific to warn that all its flights in and out of the city will be cancelled from 6pm on Sunday.
Usagi was packing maximum sustained winds of up to 195 kilometres per hour, the Hong Kong Observatory said, as people in the city reinforced windows in anticipation of the approaching storm’s impact.
In Taiwan’s southern Pintung county, storms flooded remote villages, forcing troops to evacuate dozens of people, the state Central News Agency said.
“I thought a tsunami was hitting… I’ve never encountered this before in my life,” it quoted as saying a 60-year-old woman who was scrambling to safety with her pet.
Six people were injured in Kinmen, a Taiwan-controlled island off China’s southeastern Fujian province, after they were hit by fallen trees, according to the Central Emergency Operation Centre.
The typhoon also left 45,000 homes powerless and more than 5000 households without water, it said. Pictures showed overturned vehicles, fallen branches and rivers of muddy water flooding the streets.
A total of 77 domestic and five international flights were cancelled and ferry services suspended, with schools and offices in many parts of Taiwan closed, especially in the south and east, authorities said.
The defence ministry deployed more than 3000 soldiers to ‘high-risk’ areas and placed 24,000 others on standby.
Nearly 3000 people had already been evacuated, officials said, as the Central Weather Bureau warned people to expect up to 1.2 metres of rain.
In August 2009, Typhoon Morakot killed about 600 people in Taiwan, most of them buried in huge landslides in the south, in one of the worst natural disasters to hit the island in recent years.