Satellite view of Typhoon Usagi, the most powerful typhoon of the year, which swept through the Luzon Strait separating the Philippines and Taiwan on Saturday, 21 September 2013, battering island communities and dumping rain as it approached landfall Sunday in Hong Kong. The storm system dumped up to 520 millimeters (20 inches) of rain along the eastern and southern coasts of Taiwan in a 20-hour period. Photo: JMA via NOAA

TAIPEI, Taiwan, 21 September 2013 (AP) – The most powerful typhoon of the year swept through the Luzon Strait separating the Philippines and Taiwan on Saturday, battering island communities with heavy rains and strong winds as it headed straight for Hong Kong.

Typhoon Usagi weakened from a super typhoon - those with sustained winds of at least 241 kilometers (150 miles) per hour - and veered westward during the day, likely sparing southern Taiwan from the most destructive winds near its eye. No deaths or serious injuries were immediately reported.

By Saturday evening, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 173 kph (108 mph) and gusts of up to 209 kph (131 mph), and was 150 kilometers (94 miles) southwest of Taiwan's southernmost point, the Central Weather Bureau said.

But gusts exceeding 230 kph (144 mph) were recorded on the Taiwanese island of Lanyu, with dangerous winds buffeting the holiday resort of Kending on the Hengchun peninsula as the storm made its closest approach to the area.

The Hong Kong Observatory said Saturday night that Usagi was 570 kilometers (354 miles) east-southeast of the city. It said the storm's maximum sustained winds would weaken to 165 kph (103 mph) as it approaches Hong Kong on Sunday afternoon before making landfall overnight. The observatory was maintaining a No. 1 Standby Signal and warned that the storm posed a "severe threat" to the city.

The forecast track of Typhoon Usagi heading toward southern Taiwan and Hong Kong, 21 September 2013. Graphic: HKO / Taiwan CWBCathay Pacific Airways and Dragonair said flights Saturday were unaffected except for one canceled flight, but both airlines said flights to and from Hong Kong International Airport would be canceled from 6 p.m. Sunday and resume Monday if conditions permit.

China's National Meteorological Center announced a red alert, its highest level, as the storm maintained its track toward the manufacturing heartland of the Pearl River Delta. The observatory warned Usagi would impact coastal areas of Guangdong, Zhejiang and Fujian provinces.

In Taiwan, more than 3,000 people were evacuated from flood-prone areas and mountainous regions as the government deployed military personnel into potential disaster zones. The storm system dumped up to 520 millimeters (20 inches) of rain along the eastern and southern coasts in a 20-hour period, with officials warning that more than 1,000 millimeters (39 inches) could drop before the storm leaves Sunday.

Local officials closed mountain highways blocked by landslides and suspended train services connecting the east and west coasts as power outages and rising floodwaters affected thousands of homes.

Rivers swollen with fast-moving water and debris thrown down from steep and unstable mountain catchment areas threatened bridges on both sides of the island.

In the Philippines, Usagi triggered landslides and power outages in the north of the country, including the Batanes island group, where it made landfall early Saturday. No casualties have been reported.

The Office of Civil Defense in Manila said landslides damaged houses and roads, and pockets of power outages were reported in at least five northern provinces, where several roads and bridges were impassable.

The government's weather bureau warned that storm surges and heavy waves could cause damage in the Batanes and other islands in the Luzon Strait before Usagi blows past the Philippines on Saturday night.

Usagi has a massive diameter of 1,100 kilometers (680 miles), with its outer rain bands extending across Luzon, all of Taiwan and more than 100 kilometers (63 miles) into China's interior, satellite images show.

Typhoon hits Taiwan, Philippines, nears Hong Kong


A car drives past waterfalls created by the run-off of rain from Typhoon Usagi near the Taiwanese town of Hengtsun, on 21 September 2013. Photo: Sam Yeh / AFP

By Sam Yeh
21 September 2013

(AFP) – Super Typhoon Usagi, the most powerful storm of the year, brought torrential rain and ferocious winds to Taiwan Saturday, 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, 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 1100 GMT Usagi was 610 kilometres (400 miles) 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 6:00 pm (1000 GMT) 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 5,000 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 3,000 soldiers to "high-risk" areas and placed 24,000 others on standby.

Nearly 3,000 people had already been evacuated, officials said, as the Central Weather Bureau warned people to expect up to 1.2 metres (47 inches) of rain.

In the Philippines' Batanes island chain terrified locals spent the night in their houses as savage winds raged outside.

"This is the strongest typhoon to hit Batanes in 25 years," Dina Abad, the district's representative to Congress, told AFP.

"The howling winds began at midnight and they churned up to eight-metre waves that damaged the port and sank moored fishing boats," she said, quoting a mayor of one coastal town.

She said coconut trees were torn in half or were uprooted, while terrified residents couldn't sleep as the storm battered roofs above their heads. The aviation tower at the island's airport was also badly damaged.

"I think the estimate of the damage will be bigger tomorrow when have a clearer assessment on the ground," she said.

In Hong Kong, officials issued a standby signal number one, the first in a five-step tropical cyclone warning system with winds expected to strengthen later Saturday and on Sunday.

"It is anticipated that disruptions will continue on 23 September, Monday," flag carrier Cathay Pacific said in a statement.

Operators at the city's port, one of the busiest in the world, said they would cease work late Saturday.

China's National Meteorological Center issued a red alert -- its highest-level warning -- as it forecast gale-force winds and heavy rain.

It said Usagi would affect the coastal areas of the provinces of Guangdong, Zhejiang and Fujian as it moved northwest.

Nearly 23,000 fishing boats had earlier taken shelter in Fujian province ahead of the storm, state media reported, while more than 4,000 people living in coastal areas were evacuated. [more]

Super typhoon lashes Philippines, Taiwan

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