Hong Kong faces severe typhoon threat as Saola approaches

Hong Kong is preparing for a possible direct hit from Typhoon Saola, which is expected to bring strong winds, heavy rain and high waves to the city on Friday. Saola is the most powerful typhoon of the season so far, with maximum sustained winds of 220 kilometers per hour (140 miles per hour) as of Thursday evening.

Schools closed and flights canceled

The Hong Kong Observatory (HKO) issued a T8 storm warning signal at 2:40am local time Friday morning, escalating from the lower category T3 on Thursday afternoon. This means that gale or storm force winds are expected or blowing in Hong Kong. A T8 signal is the third highest out of 10 in Hong Kong’s storm warning system.

During a press conference Thursday afternoon, Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary Eric Chan announced all schools would be closed Friday, which was set to be the first day of the academic year for most institutions. He also urged residents to stay indoors and avoid unnecessary travel.

Hong Kong’s flagship airline Cathay Pacific halted all flights to and from Hong Kong from Friday afternoon through Saturday morning, the airline said in a statement Thursday. “With the exception of CX840/1 September to New York-JFK, all Cathay Pacific flights arriving in and departing from Hong Kong between 2pm on Friday, 1 September and 10am on Saturday, 2 September have been cancelled,” Cathay Pacific said on their website.

Cathay Pacific warned of potential further flight delays and cancellations “based on weather conditions and the typhoon’s path on Saturday morning.” Passengers will be rebooked on the next scheduled flight if their current flight is canceled or delayed, Cathay Pacific said. The airline also urged customers check the status of their flight before coming to the airport.

Hong Kong faces severe typhoon threat as Saola approaches

Saola to brush Hong Kong and Guangdong

According to HKO, Saola will move northwest across the South China Sea at a speed of about 10 kilometers per hour (6 miles per hour), gradually approaching the coast of Guangdong Province, which borders Hong Kong. Saola will make landfall in China along the coast somewhere from Huilai County in Guangdong to Hong Kong between Friday afternoon and Friday night, HKO said.

Saola lost super typhoon status as winds dropped from 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) to 220 kph (140 mph), though still remains the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane. The storm previously impacted parts of northeastern Philippines, where it caused flooding and displacement of nearly 50,000 people.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center projects that the storm will get closest to Hong Kong and China’s southern Guangdong Province Friday night but the center of the storm will remain offshore. The storm is expected to weaken as it approaches to become the equivalent of Category 2 hurricane.

Storm surge and flooding risk

Saola will also bring storm surges to coastal low-lying areas, HKO noted, estimating Saola is currently about 440 kilometers (270 miles) from Hong Kong. During Thursday’s press conference, experts suggested the storm surge for Saola could reach similar levels as seen with Typhoon Mangkhut in 2018, which killed 10 people in neighboring Macau and caused significant damage in Hong Kong.

HKO warned that low-lying areas may experience flooding or backflow of seawater due to storm surge. It advised residents living in these areas to take precautions against flooding and stay away from the shoreline.

HKO also said that there will be heavy rainfall in Hong Kong on Friday and Saturday, with more than 200 millimeters (7.9 inches) of rain expected in some areas. It cautioned that landslides may occur in steep terrain and urged people to stay away from landslide-prone areas.

Residents stock up on essentials

As Saola approached, many Hong Kong residents stocked up on essentials such as food, water and batteries at supermarkets and convenience stores. Some shops ran out of certain items or had long queues of customers waiting to pay.

Windows were taped in anticipation of Typhoon Saola at a store in Hong Kong on August 31. Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Some residents also secured their windows with tape or boards to prevent glass from shattering due to strong winds. Others moved their furniture and belongings away from windows or balconies.

Hong Kong is no stranger to tropical cyclones and typhoons and generally has a good track record in recent decades of getting through even direct hits with low casualty figures. However, Saola poses a serious threat to the city and its surrounding areas, and residents are advised to follow the instructions of local authorities and stay alert for any updates.

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