Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Huge typhoon batters Taiwan islands

A woman and her child hold their umbrellas tight against powerful gusts of wind as typhoon Usagi approaches in Taipei (AP)
A woman and her child hold their umbrellas tight against powerful gusts of wind as typhoon Usagi approaches in Taipei (AP)

The most powerful typhoon of the year swept through the Luzon Strait separating the Philippines and Taiwan, battering island communities and dumping rain as it eyes landfall in Hong Kong.

Super Typhoon Usagi had maximum sustained winds of 139mph and gusts exceeding 163mph by this morning, and was 340 miles south of Taipei, Taiwan's capital, according to the US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Centre. A storm achieves super typhoon status when winds reach 150mph.

Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau said Usagi was veering west, likely sparing southern Taiwan from the most destructive winds near its eye.

But gusts exceeding 144mph were recorded on the Taiwan island of Lanyu, and the bureau warned that dangerous winds were buffeting the holiday resort of Kending on the Hengchun peninsula as the storm makes its closest approach to the area.

In the Philippines, Usagi triggered landslides and power outages in parts of the north of the country, including the Batanes island group where it made landfall early today. No casualties have been reported.

The government's weather bureau warned that storm surges and heavy waves could cause damage in the Batanes and other islands in the Luzon Strait before Usagi blows past the Philippines.

China's National Meteorological Centre announced a red alert, its highest level, as the storm maintained its track towards Hong Kong and the manufacturing heartland of the Pearl River Delta. The observatory warned Usagi will impact coastal areas of Guangdong, Zhejiang and Fujian provinces.

The US Navy's warning centre predicted that Usagi will approach Hong Kong with weaker but dangerous sustained winds of 110mph early on Monday morning, while the Hong Kong Observatory warned the storm poses a "severe threat" to the city.

In Taiwan, nearly 2,500 people were evacuated from flood-prone areas and remote mountainous regions as the government deployed military personnel into potential disaster zones. The storm system has dumped more than 200 millimetres along the eastern and southern coasts in a 13-hour period, with officials warning that a total rainfall of 1,000 millimetres could drop before the storm passes.

Local officials closed mountain highways blocked by landslides and suspended train services connecting the east and west coasts as power outages affected thousands of homes. Usagi retains a massive diameter of 680 miles, with its outer rain bands extending across the main northern Philippine island of Luzon and all of Taiwan across to the Chinese coast.

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