Tens of millions of people in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and other southern Chinese megacities stayed home Friday evening as Super Typhoon Saola threatened to become the strongest storm to hit the region in decades.
Ahead of Saola’s arrival, more than 880,000 people were evacuated in two Chinese provinces, hundreds of flights across the region were canceled and trees in Hong Kong’s rainsoaked streets were uprooted.
China’s National Weather Bureau predicted that Saola “could become the strongest typhoon to hit the Pearl River Delta since 1949,” referring to a lowlying region that includes Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong province.
Faced with the possibility of a direct impact, Hong Kong authorities on Friday evening raised the alert level to the city’s highest “T10” which has only been issued 16 times since World War II, before Saola.
“Do not go outside…Stay away from exposed windows and doors as the glass, already under the pressure of the wind, can easily break if hit by a flying object,” the Hong Kong Observatory warned in a bulletin issued after the highest alert level was lifted. been issued. published.
At 11 p.m. (local time) this Friday, Saola was 30 kilometers southsouthwest of the city, “closest to Hong Kong at the moment” and with sustained wind speeds of 185 kilometers per hour. “The public must be on high alert. It is advisable to remain where you are if you are protected and prepared for Saola’s destructive winds,” the Observatory said.
The Hong Kong Observatory conducted a reconnaissance flight into the center of the Saola storm and released images of the typhoon’s eye with what it called the “stadium effect.” This effect is caused by the spiraling parcels of air within the eyewall moving away from the center of the storm as they rise.
As a result of movement, the diameter of the eye becomes larger (or wider) as the height above the ocean surface increases. This enlargement of the eye with increasing height forms what looks like the “ring” of a stadium, so this formation is sometimes called the stadium effect. The reasons for this effect are quite complex.
Meteorology warned that “maximum water levels could reach historic record levels” and warned that “severe flooding will occur.” The last time Hong Kong declared a T10 warning was in 2018, when Typhoon Mangkhut hit the city, toppling trees and causing flooding, injuring more than 300 people. In mainland China, Mangkhut killed six people and affected the lives of more than three million others.
Across the mainland border, in neighboring Guangdong province, authorities have evacuated more than 780,000 people from highrisk areas, while in eastern Fujian province more than 100,000 people have been relocated to safer locations.
Trains entering and leaving Guangdong were also suspended until 6 p.m. on Saturday, while the national flood control agency increased its emergency response to the second highest level.
“It will have an impact on our lives,” said Wu Wenlai, 43, who was forced to close his restaurant in a Shenzhen suburb. “My eldest son wanted to fly to Chengdu to study at university today and his flight has now been canceled.”
Southern China is often hit by typhoons in summer and autumn, which form in the warm oceans east of the Philippines and then move west. Climate change has increased the intensity of tropical storms, with more rain and stronger gusts causing flash floods and coastal damage, experts say.
In Hong Kong, authorities have received at least seven confirmed cases of flooding and nearly 40 reports of fallen trees. The city’s hospital authority reported that a total of seven people sought medical treatment during Saola. Neighboring casino hub Macau raised its storm warning to the second highest level, adding it could hit the highest level around 1am on Saturday.
Businesses boarded up their storefronts and windows while skyscrapers swayed in the strong gusts. In East Heng Fa Chuen a coastal residential area and site of devastation during Typhoon Mangkhut in 2018 officials in orange vests urged storm watchers to return home as trees leaned sideways due to strong gusts.
In the floodprone fishing village of Lei Yue Mun, water poured into shops, prompting residents to put up sandbags and board up doors. “I hope we can keep the tools we need for our business, like the refrigerator. We raised them so the water wouldn’t damage the (electronics),” a restaurateur surnamed Lee told local TV station.