HONG KONG (AFP) - Severe Typhoon Usagi killed at least three people as it smashed into southern China Sunday, shutting down one of the world's busiest sea ports in nearby Hong Kong and throwing flight schedules into disarray.
Usagi, described by meteorologists as the most powerful storm on Earth this year, packed winds of 165kmh as it hit land in China's densely populated Pearl River Delta, according to Chinese officials.
Two people were killed in Guangdong province after they were hit by a falling tree, according to the Xinhua news agency, and elsewhere in the province a villager was killed by falling glass, while a woman was missing after her fishing boat capsized.
Xinhua said inter-city trains between Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai were suspended and winds were strong enough near Shanwei city to blow cars off the road. More than 47,000 fishing boats are in harbour and schools were closed in 14 cities.
Usagi had previously killed two people in the Philippines and unleashed landslides and power outages across southern Taiwan as it ploughed through the Luzon Strait with ferocious winds and torrential downpours.
The Hong Kong Observatory hoisted the No. 8 signal - the third of a five-step tropical storm warning.
Authorities in the southern Chinese city said it was likely to bring "severe" disruption, with transport systems affected and expectations of high waves and flooding in low-lying areas.
Meteorological authorities told Xinhua that the storm made landfall at 7.40pm near Shanwei, sparing densely populated Hong Kong a direct hit.
But at Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport, airline counters were besieged by anxious passengers hoping to rebook their flights after the Cathay Pacific group said it was cancelling all its flights from 6pm on Sunday.
With many other airlines following suit, only a handful of flights were still scheduled to land or take off after 6pm. Incoming flights from London, Sydney and Chicago among other cities were cancelled, and thousands risked being stranded.
Operators at Hong Kong's sea port ceased work late on Saturday, stranding many giant tankers in sea channels not far from shore.
The financial hub is well versed in typhoon preparations and enforces strict building codes, so rarely suffers major loss of life as a result of tropical storms but the observatory warned against complacency.
China's National Meteorological Centre earlier issued a "red alert" - its highest-level warning - for Usagi, which means rabbit in Japanese. It forecast gale-force winds and heavy rain.
On its way towards southern China, Usagi forced the evacuation of 3,400 people in southern Taiwan, dumped more than 70cm of rain on Hualien city, and forced more than 100 flights to be delayed or cancelled to and from the island.
A mudslide hit one hotel in a popular hot-springs resort area of Taiwan's Taitung county late Saturday, shattering windows and damaging furniture.
"I heard a loud sound and (the mudslide) came through the windows of the restaurant in the back. Our customers were safe but we estimate losses of NT$1.5 million (S$63,550)," a hotel worker told reporters.
Remote villages suffered heavy flooding.
"I thought a tsunami was hitting... I've never encountered this before in my life," said a 60-year-old woman who scrambled to safety with her pet dog.
Twelve people were injured in Kinmen, a Taiwan-controlled island off China's Fujian province, after they were hit by falling trees, according to the Central Emergency Operation Centre.
But in the Taiwanese port of Kaohsiung, a giant yellow duck designed by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman was set to be reinflated as wind speeds ebbed.
Prior to hitting Taiwan, Usagi brushed the far north of the Philippines where a man and a woman drowned on Friday when their boat capsized in high seas. Another three people are missing.
Authorities in the Batan and Babuyan island groups reported toppled power pylons as well as houses, schools and government buildings losing their roofs.
"Some roads are impassable due to debris, landslides and flooding. Local disaster officials told us this was the strongest typhoon they had experienced in years," regional civil defence officer Ronald Villa told AFP.
The region is regularly pummelled by tropical storms. Typhoon Bopha left a trail of destruction in the southern Philippines last year, triggering floods and landslides that left more than 1,800 dead and missing and displaced nearly one million people.