Up to half a million people to be evacuated as giant Typhoon Talim approaches south-eastern China

The projected path of Typhoon Talim, as seen on the website of the China Meteorological Administration.
The projected path of Typhoon Talim, as seen on the website of the China Meteorological Administration.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM WEBSITE

BEIJING - Up to half a million people were expected to be evacuated from their homes in south-eastern China on Tuesday (Sept 12) as the region braced itself for a "giant" typhoon that is expected to make landfall later in the week.

Typhoon Talim was forecast to hit several cities along the central and northern sections of the Fujian coastline, including Fuzhou and Ningde, reported The South China Morning Post, citing the chief engineer at the province's meteorological bureau, Ms Liu Aiming.

Ms Liu said as many as 500,000 people would receive evacuation notices, though the exact figure was subject to change as the situation was evolving.

Most of the people lived in properties that were unlikely to withstand the high winds, or in areas that were prone to flooding and mudslides, or were close to construction sites where they could be hit by flying debris. Ms Liu said that school buildings and sports stadiums were likely to be used as temporary shelters.

Talim formed east of the Philippines on Saturday. It has been steadily gaining strength and was likely to pass through Taiwan. It was expected to have grown into a super typhoon by the time it made landfall, the highest level in China's rating system and comparable to a category 4 or 5 hurricane in the US.

The meteorological agency issued a blue alert, the lowest in a four-tier colour-coded system for severe weather, reported Reuters. 

On Tuesday morning, the eye of Talim was 1,040km south-east of Taiwan’s Yilan county, packing winds of up to 33 metres a second.

Talim is expected to hit north and north-east parts of Taiwan the hardest on Wednesday and into Thursday with heavy rains and strong gusts.

The storm will then move north-west at a speed of 25km to 30km an hour towards the coast of Zhejiang and Fujian, making landfall late on Thursday or early Friday, according to China’s National Meteorological Centre.

From Tuesday to Wednesday, Talim will bring gales to the southern East China Sea, the Taiwan Strait and waters east of Taiwan, as well as parts of the South China Sea.

The Fujian government initiated a Grade IV emergency response on Monday night, the lowest of a four-grade emergency response system.

Relevant government agencies were told to monitor Typhoon Talim and take emergency measures in a timely manner, according to a statement on the official website of Fujian province.

State-owned China News Service reported on Tuesday that Zhejiang province had also initiated a Grade IV response.

If anything unusual was detected, government agencies should issue warnings and organise evacuations, the news report said.

The National Meteorological Centre also warned of a tropical depression 205km east of Manila in the Philippines, saying it could gather strength and become a typhoon in the next 12 hours.

Floods caused by tropical storm Maring submerged many streets and highways in the Philippines on Tuesday, prompting the government to close schools and suspend work in Metro Manila and the affected provinces.

Late last month, Typhoon Hato pummelled Macau with winds of more than 200kmh and wreaked havoc in the nearby financial hub of Hong Kong.

"Talim is a giant. It will dwarf any of the others (typhoons) we've seen this year," Ms Liu told The South China Morning Post.

People who resisted orders to evacuate would be forced to do so by inspection teams, she said.

"It's routine practice. (If they were not told to evacuate) most people would just stay in their homes. Nobody hits the highway," she said, adding that she was a "bit surprised at what happened in the US".

She was referring to the mass exodus by 5 million residents from Florida last week as Hurricane Irma raced towards the coast, which caused huge jams on motorways and saw many service stations run out of fuel.

Professor Huang Peng, who teaches architecture and wind engineering at Tongji University in Shanghai and used to work at the International Hurricane Research Centre in Florida, said the different approaches adopted by China and the US to keep people safe were understandable.

"(In Florida) Most of the people live in timber properties on low-lying ground and that makes them vulnerable to high winds," he said. "And because they are spread over such a wide area, it would have been difficult to get aid and support to them in the aftermath of the hurricane," he said.

"In China, mass evacuations are usually not considered an option, but for those living in poorly built properties or at-risk locations it is better if they are relocated," he explained, adding that the population density was the reason why mass evacuations were not as popular in China.

Mr Wang Kanghong, a researcher at the meteorological disaster laboratory under the Ministry of Education in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, said the Chinese government was very selective when it came to ordering evacuations, only issuing orders if the data suggested a building was vulnerable to a typhoon.

"(However) the climate is changing. It is possible we will one day be faced with a mega-typhoon that few buildings would be able to withstand," he said.

Officials in every city had plans to deal with such a "doomsday scenario", he added.

These included the evacuation of entire cities, but there were no guarantees such a plan would work, Mr Wang told The South China Morning Post.

"There has never been a drill. Many things can go wrong."