Super typhoon heads towards Hong Kong, China issues highest warning

BEIJING/ HONG KONG (Reuters) -China issued its highest typhoon warning on Thursday as Super Typhoon Saola, packing winds of more than 200 kph (125 mph), headed towards the southeastern coastline, threatening Hong Kong and other major manufacturing hubs in nearby Guangdong province.

Chinese forecasters issued a typhoon red warning at 6 a.m. (2200 GMT). China’s National Meteorological Centre said Saola, currently located about 315 km (183 miles) southeast of Guangdong province, will move northwest across the South China Sea at a speed of about 10 kph (6 mph), gradually approaching the coast of Guangdong, then slowly weaken in intensity.

Wind speeds at noon (0400 GMT) were clocked at 209 kph (130 mph).

Saola will make landfall along the coast somewhere from Huilai County in Guangdong to Hong Kong on the afternoon to the night of Sept. 1, the centre said, adding with its forecasted intensity, it could be among the five strongest typhoons to land in Guangdong since 1949.

Hong Kong’s government said the city would raise its strong wind signal to No.8 between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. on Friday, bringing the city to an effective standstill with most businesses and the stock exchange shut.

All schools will be closed on Friday, despite being the first day of term for many, the government said.

Crowds jostled at fresh food markets in the city’s downtown Wan Chai district on Thursday afternoon with many vegetables already sold out. Supermarkets saw long queues with people stocking up ahead of the storm.

Hong Kong’s Observatory said it expects heavy rain and violent winds while the city’s water level is expected to “rise appreciably” until Saturday with potential serious flooding.

As Saola approached, Guangdong’s Shenzhen city said it would upgrade the typhoon warning level to yellow – the second lowest – at 6 p.m. on Thursday, and suspend classes at nurseries, kindergartens, primary and secondary schools.

Shenzhen’s Baoan Airport had suspended all flights from midday Friday and said it would resume them as soon as it was safe to do so.

China Southern Power Grid said it is stepping up inspection of equipment and strengthening measures to prevent water leakage in basement power rooms.

China Railway has suspended several major train lines and Shanghai halted trains heading to Guangdong, according to local media.

Until 8 a.m. (0000 GMT) Friday there will be heavy rainfall in parts of Fujian and areas of Guangdong, weather officials said. Downpours could be 100-220 mm (3.9 inches to 8.7 inches) in some areas.

(Reporting by Bernard Orr, Ethan Wang,David Kirton and Shanghai newsroom, Farah Master and Twinnie Siu in Hong Kong; Editing by Lincoln Feast)