Date: Tuesday, September 5th, 2023
Source: Wall Street Journal
As residents of Florida and South Carolina struggle with the aftermath of storm Idalia, another powerful cyclone lashed southern China Saturday, forcing almost one million people to be evacuated from their homes.
Supertyphoon Saola left a trail of damage along the coast, including in the Asian financial hub of Hong Kong and the nearby gambling enclave of Macau, uprooting trees, shaking buildings and flooding some low-lying areas.
China’s central government had issued its highest typhoon warning, ordering the deployment of emergency rescue vessels because of the rough seas. Roughly 900,000 residents in two coastal provinces, Guangdong and Fujian, were evacuated, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Saola made landfall in a waterfront district of Guangdong west of Hong Kong in the early hours of Saturday, according to China’s National Meteorological Centre. It warned of heavy rain in the southern region over the weekend, due to both Saola and another storm called Haikui, the Chinese name for sea anemone, which is heading for China’s southeastern coast.
Hong Kong government meteorologists issued the city’s highest storm alert at around 8 p.m. local time Saturday, the first level-10 typhoon in five years. All schools, the stock market and most public transport closed Friday and hundreds of flights were canceled as the storm skirted close to the city.
Wind speeds topping 130 miles an hour on Friday made Saola a Category 4 cyclone by U.S. standards, before easing slightly. Idalia briefly touched that category before battering northern Florida as a Category 3 hurricane.
After gathering strength in the Pacific Ocean to become a typhoon about a week ago, Saola had left one person dead and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes in the Philippines before grinding toward southern China.
Hurricanes and typhoons are different names for the same type of rotating storm, depending on where it occurs. Also known as tropical cyclones, they develop over warm ocean waters near the equator. Those that form in the North Atlantic or central and eastern North Pacific are called hurricanes. Those born over the western North Pacific are known to Asia as typhoons.
Saola was only the 17th storm to trigger the level-10, hurricane-force gale warning since 1946, according to the Hong Kong Observatory. While deaths are now rare in the city, that storm five years ago caused more than 120 fatalities in the Philippines. Another typhoon, Hanna, affected the main Philippines island of Luzon on Friday.
Warming ocean temperatures are expected to fuel more cyclones. Decades of climate warming and an El Niño pattern that releases heat from the Pacific into the atmosphere have brought Atlantic sea-surface temperatures to a record high this year, according to experts.
An earlier typhoon wreaked havoc in China’s northeast in August, causing torrential rain and widespread flooding in and around the capital, Beijing, that left dozens of people dead and millions more displaced. China’s government earlier warned that changing weather patterns would lead to more flooding in some regions, affecting agriculture.
Saola had a double-eyewall structure, the Hong Kong Observatory said, which was an indication of a particularly intense storm.
As Hong Kong rides out the winds, the observatory warned of flooding caused by heavy rain and a storm surge that would push sea levels nearly 10 feet higher in some areas.
In Hong Kong Friday, the stock exchange halted trading—a practice that sets it apart from other major bourses. More than 360 flights were canceled. All schools were closed on what would have been the first day of classes for many students. The typhoon knocked down trees and caused some flooding, but the city emerged relatively unscathed Saturday after a night of windows bending and objects shaking inside high-rise buildings.
The city’s observatory has kept the typhoon alert at or above level 8 for more than 36 hours and said it will downgrade it to a strong wind signal on Saturday afternoon.
Authorities in the neighboring tech and manufacturing hub of Shenzhen ordered work, business and market activity to stop late Friday afternoon. All flights from the city’s airport were grounded from midday, while schools were suspended a day earlier.
The world’s longest sea bridge, connecting Hong Kong, mainland China and Macau, closed on Friday afternoon.
The government in Macau—like Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China—raised the city’s storm signal to its highest category for several hours early Saturday. Officials in the gambling hub were accused of failing to raise alerts in time in 2017, when a typhoon killed 10 people in the city of fewer than 700,000 residents.
Macau closed its casinos overnight but reopened their doors in the morning as the storm gradually weakened and headed southwest.