Hong Kong Slammed by Saola, Biggest Typhoon Since 2018

Super Typhoon Saola pummeled Hong Kong Friday night, bringing hurricane force winds and heavy rain across the territory.

(Bloomberg) — Super Typhoon Saola pummeled Hong Kong Friday night, bringing hurricane force winds and heavy rain across the territory. 

The Hong Kong Observatory raised the No. 10 storm signal — the highest — at 8:15 p.m. and said it expects it to remain in force “for some time.” It also warned of heavy rains, serious flooding with record water levels, rapidly rising waters in coastal areas, and “phenomenal” swells. 

The stock market and schools were closed Friday in advance of the storm’s arrival. Most public transportation was grounded. 

The storm 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.

Gale force winds were affecting the territory, with occasional storm force winds offshore and hurricane force winds on some high ground, the observatory said in its latest update. There were also heavy squally showers, it said. 

The storm, 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 will come within 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) south of the territory, 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 kilometers away from the city at its closest point.

In nearby Macau, a Chinese-speaking island that is the world’s biggest gambling hub, the government ordered all casinos to shut after raising its storm warning level to T9. The city’s casinos are generally open 24 hours-a-day and had only been shut previously at the height of the Covid pandemic and in 2018 when Mangkhut hit. Macau’s weather service said the storm signal may go to T10 between 1 am and 3 am on Sunday.

Chief Secretary Chan Kwok-ki, who is leading the Hong Kong 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.”

Read more: Only Plane Flying to Hong Kong Lands in Middle of Super Typhoon

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.

About 460 flights out of 850 passenger flights to and from Hong Kong were cancelled Friday, according to the local airport authority. Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., the city’s flag carrier, said it halted all Hong Kong flights from 2 p.m. Friday until 10 a.m. Saturday.

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

Nearby Shenzhen airport halted all flights from noon, the airport operator said. Businesses closed from 4 p.m., while transport would stop three hours later, the government said. Trains traveling to and from Guangdong province would 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, which is required 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 has now intensified into a typhoon and is moving west from Okinawa in Japan and is expected to move 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 Alfred Liu, K. Oanh Ha, Jing Li, Philip Glamann, Filipe Pacheco, Danny Lee, Luz Ding, Dominic Lau and Olivia Tam.

(Updates distance to Hong Kong in seventh paragraph, Macau casino closings in eighth paragraph, second typhoon in penultimate paragraph.)

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