Flight chaos as Hong Kong hunkers down for huge typhoon

Flight chaos as Hong Kong hunkers down for huge typhoon

HONG KONG - Severe Typhoon Usagi made landfall in southern China Sunday evening, shutting down one of the world's busiest sea ports in nearby Hong Kong and throwing flight schedules into disarray from Europe to the United States.

Usagi packed winds of 165 kilometres (103 miles) per hour as it closed in on China's densely populated Pearl River Delta, forcing some residents in vulnerable areas to tape up windows and stock up on supplies.

The storm, described by meteorologists as the most powerful anywhere on Earth this year, killed two people in the Philippines and unleashed landslides in Taiwan en route to southern China.

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.

Local meteorological authorities told China's Xinhua news agency that the storm made landfall at 7.40pm (1140 GMT) near Guangdong's Shanwei city, 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 6:00 pm Sunday.

With many other airlines following suit, only a handful of flights were still scheduled to land or take off after 6:00 pm. Incoming flights from London, Sydney and Chicago among other cities were cancelled, and thousands of people risked being stranded at their point of origin or in Hong Kong.

Operators at Hong Kong's sea port, one of the world's busiest, 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.

Sunday is a regular business day in China but in Xiamen city, on the coast of Fujian province, authorities called off school classes and suspended ferries to Taiwan.

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