TAIPEI/HONG KONG: The most powerful typhoon of the year was approaching the northern Philippines and southern Taiwan on Friday with ferocious wind gusts of up to 305 km per hour. It was expected to skirt both regions, with authorities warning of torrential rains and destructive winds.
Super Typhoon Usagi had maximum sustained winds of 250 kph on Friday afternoon and was about 665 km southeast of Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, according to the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center. A storm achieves super typhoon status when its sustained winds are at least 240 kph.
“It is the strongest typhoon in the west Pacific region this year,” a weather forecaster at the Taiwan Central Weather Bureau told AFP.
Philippine authorities evacuated some 240 people in the northern agricultural province of Tarlac, while ferries were restricted to their ports, stranding traveLlers.
A signal four alert was issued for the Batanes island group in the extreme north of the country, warning large trees could be uprooted, plantations flattened and power and communications infrastructure knocked out.
Emergency relief services were also put on heightened alert, with the Red Cross already stockpiling first aid kits and food packs in some areas. “Damage to affected communities can be very heavy,” the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration said. “The situation is potentially very destructive to communities. All travel and outdoor activities should be canceled.”
The country’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said Usagi would cause intense rainfall of 10-20 mm per hour within a 700-km range.
Hong Kong officials warned of worsening weather in the southern Chinese territory.
“Weather will deteriorate significantly with strengthening winds and rough seas,” the Hong Kong observatory said. Its tropical cyclone track map showed the storm would hit the city after 8:00 pm (1200 GMT) on Sunday.
The typhoon is expected to be downgraded to “severe” by the time it makes landfall in the territory, according to the observatory, still enough to stop metro and ferry services and curtail air travel.
Typhoon Usagi is set to brush the southern tip of Taiwan on Saturday morning, expected to bring fierce winds and torrential rains, possibly leading to landslides.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry deployed more than 1,600 soldiers in “high risk” areas prone to flooding and landslides while placing 24,000 others on standby.
The island’s weather bureau issued a warning to the residents of Taitung, Kaohsiung and the Pingtung areas to take special precautions, as television news footage showed people surfing on waves whipped up by Usagi. Authorities in the southern city of Kaohsiung deflated an 18-meter-tall yellow duck.