HONG KONG (REUTERS/AFP/BLOOMBERG) - Typhoon Hato made landfall in China on Wednesday (Aug 23) after it lashed Hong Kong with heavy winds and rain, forcing the city to issue the highest storm warning - a maximum category 10 storm - and its stock exchange to cancel trading for the day.
There were reports of 34 people injured in Hong Kong, while in the city of Macau, across the Pearl River estuary, three people were killed, the authorities there said.
More than 450 flights were cancelled, financial markets suspended and schools closed as Hato bore down on the city.
Many skyscrapers in the heart of the financial centre were empty and in darkness as the city’s workers stayed at home and hunkered through the storm.
Hato churned up Hong Kong’s iconic Victoria Harbour and triggered large swells and massive waves on some of the city’s most popular beaches, with serious flooding in low-lying areas.
In residential districts like Heng Fa Chuen on densely populated Hong Kong island, massive waves smashed against the sides of oceanfront buildings and surged over a promenade, swamping vehicles parked nearby.
Construction cranes swayed precipitously from the tops of skyscrapers, trees toppled and residents deployed canoes to get around on some streets.
“I’ve never seen one like this,” said Garrett Quigley, a long-time resident of Lantau island to the west of the city. “Cars are half submerged and roads are impassable with flooding and huge trees down. It’s crazy.”
Maximum winds near Hato’s centre were recorded at a destructive 155 kmh.
The Hong Kong Observatory issued the No. 8 signal at 2.10 pm, after hoisting signal No. 10 for five hours.
It’s the first time since Typhoon Vicente in July 2012 that the city raised its highest-level warning. The last time Hong Kong had to cancel full-day trading was in October 2016, when Typhoon Haima forced schools to close and airlines to suspend flights.
Typhoon Hato has made landfall over Zhuhai of southern China, the Observatory said. The storm is moving away from Hong Kong and weakening gradually.
Hato, named after the Japanese word for pigeon, is forecast to move west-northwest at about 25 kmh into Guangdong.
Trading in Hong Kong will likely resume on Thursday.
About 450 flights have been cancelled at Hong Kong International Airport as of 11 am, according to the Airport Authority. Cathay Pacific Airways said a majority of flights to and from Hong Kong between 6 am and 5 pm on Wednesday have been suspended. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has to stay in Hangzhou for another day due to flight cancellations, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) reported.
Waves of “a few feet high” were seen near the shore at the residential area Heng Fa Chuen on Hong Kong Island, with water rushing into building lobbies and carparks, according to RTHK.
The government opened 26 temporary shelters and 279 people had sought refuge. At least 34 people sought medical treatment at public hospitals.
There were 182 reports of fallen trees. Several trees fell onto a highway in the Wan Chai business district, but traffic remained light as most people weren’t going to work.
Some still made it to the office. Clement Cheng, a Hong Kong-based trader at RBC Investment Management, went to work by car at 7.40 am and found the office empty except himself and an analyst.“I need to get into the office to manage some regional orders,” said Cheng. “It is super windy in Hong Kong. I can feel my apartment moved a bit this morning.”
Financial markets, schools, businesses and non-essential government services close when the signal 8 or above is hoisted.
Hong Kong is regularly hit by typhoons between July and October, but direct hits are rare.
The city saw its strongest storm in 1962 when the eye of typhoon Wanda passed over and gusts of 284kmh were recorded. It killed 130 people and destroyed thousands of residential huts, leaving 72,000 people homeless.
Since then, Hong Kong has adapted to typhoons, including making sure its highest commercial skyscrapers can sway in the wind, and due to the extensive lockdown procedures, typhoons now rarely cause deaths.