Hong Kong Braces for Biggest Typhoon Hit Since at Least 2018

Hong Kong hunkered down on Friday as officials and residents prepared for the impact of Super Typhoon Saola, which is forecast to hit the city toward the end of the day.

(Bloomberg) — Hong Kong hunkered down on Friday as officials and residents prepared for the impact of Super Typhoon Saola, which is forecast to hit the city toward the end of the day.

The government issued the No. 8 storm signal — the third-highest — at 2:40 a.m. and warned it may raise higher signals as soon as 6 p.m. The stock market was closed Friday along with schools and most public transportation was grounded. Many flights are being canceled.

The storm, which was 160 km (99 miles) away from the financial hub at 1 p.m., currently has sustained winds of 210 km/hour near the center, according to the local observatory. That makes it as strong as a category 4 major hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale.

“As Saola continues to edge closer to Hong Kong, weather will deteriorate gradually in the next few hours,” the observatory said on its website. “There will be heavy squally showers and violent winds.”

The storm, which is on track to be the strongest to affect the city since at least Mangkhut in 2018, is a major test for Chief Executive John Lee’s government. Mangkhut provoked public criticism after roads remained blocked for days by some of the tens of thousands of trees toppled by the typhoon and people struggled to get to work.

Saola is forecast to be within 50 km south of Hong Kong late Friday and early Saturday, the observatory said, warning that a storm surge will cause water levels to rise rapidly in low-lying coastal areas. The maximum water level may be similar to when Mangkhut hit Hong Kong, it said. Mangkhut was 100 km away from the city at its closest point.

Chief Secretary Chan Kwok-ki, who is leading a government task force to deal with the storm, warned residents to stay indoors. 

“This can be a very destructive typhoon,” the chief secretary said Thursday, flanked by heads of various government departments. “We hope to minimize the damage.”

In the past 40 years, only five storms have prompted the raising of the highest signal in Hong Kong, according to observatory data. The No. 10 signal means hurricane force winds reaching a sustained speed of at least 118 km an hour.  

Residents took advantage of the calm conditions on Friday morning to do some outdoor exercise, walk their dogs and stock up on food before the storm arrived. At one Wellcome supermarket in Wanchai on Hong Kong island, vegetables, fresh meat and hot food were running out by mid-morning, while instant noodles and pasta were in short supply.

Huifang Luo, 50, owner of 759 Store, said business became extremely busy on Thursday after residents heard about Saola’s approach. She was the only person working in the shop on Friday after transport disruptions meant other employees couldn’t commute.

Airlines are canceling flights. The Airport Authority Hong Kong said that as of 8.30 a.m., 366 passenger flights were scrapped Friday and 40 delayed.

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., the city’s flag carrier, said it will halt all Hong Kong flights from 2 p.m. Friday until 10 a.m. Saturday. The airline expects significant disruptions at Hong Kong International Airport and is working to keep aircraft out of the city for a period of time, according to information seen by Bloomberg.

In Hong Kong, all inner harbor and outlying islands ferry services have been suspended, along with all bus services. 

Nearby Shenzhen airport will halt all flights from noon, the airport operator said. Businesses will close from 4 p.m., while transport will stop three hours later, the government said. Trains traveling to and from Guangdong province will be halted from 8 p.m. Friday to Saturday evening.

Read more: How Hurricanes Are Categorized on an Imperfect Scale: QuickTake

The Hong Kong exchange halted stock trading because of rules requiring it when signal no. 8 or above is in place. Trading halts due to severe weather are seen as increasingly antiquated given that the global finance industry adjusted to remote working during the pandemic.

With most orders now received and executed electronically, the case is growing for Hong Kong to ensure continuous trading in bad weather. Financial Secretary Paul Chan said earlier this year that the city will explore arrangements to allow stock trading under severe weather.

China’s national weather authorities reiterated their highest alert for the typhoon on Friday morning. They warned of severe weather in the coastal provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, and urged local officials to be ready for flash flooding. China dealt with several bouts of extreme weather this summer, with dozens of deaths in northern areas including Beijing that were caused by flooding from Typhoon Doksuri.

Another storm is expected to affect Taiwan and eastern China in coming days. Severe tropical storm Haikui, with maximum sustained winds of 110 km per hour, is forecast to be close to northern Taiwan on Saturday evening or Sunday morning before making landfall in mainland China near Fuzhou. 

Currency and fixed income markets in the Philippines were closed on Friday after government offices including the central bank were shut due to monsoon rains enhanced by Saola and other storms.

–With assistance from Jing Li, Philip Glamann, Filipe Pacheco, Danny Lee, Luz Ding, Dominic Lau, Olivia Tam and Alfred Liu.

(Updates to add latest storm details in second and third paragraphs, additional information from 10th paragraph)

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