Updated: 09/22/2013 17:24 | By Agence France-Presse

Hong Kong hunkers down for powerful typhoon Usagi

Severe Typhoon Usagi barrelled towards Hong Kong on Sunday, shutting down one of the world's busiest sea ports and throwing flight schedules into disarray, after killing two people in the Philippines and unleashing landslides in Taiwan.

Hong Kong hunkers down for powerful typhoon Usagi

A car drives past waterfalls created by the run-off of rain from Typhoon Usagi near the Taiwanese town of Hengtsun, on September 21, 2013.

Usagi -- which means rabbit in Japanese -- 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 Hong Kong Observatory, issuing the second of a five-step tropical cyclone warning, said it was likely to bring "severe" disruption to the city with transport systems affected and expectations of high waves and localised flooding.

Cathay Pacific said it was cancelling all flights from 6:00 pm (1000 GMT) Sunday. At the Chek Lap Kok airport, airline counters were besieged by anxious passengers hoping to rebook on earlier flights.

Hong Kong's Airport Authority said that by the end of Sunday, it expected to see 376 flights cancelled by Cathay and other airlines.

Operators at Hong Kong's maritime cargo port, one of the busiest in the world, 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, saying that Usagi was set to become the strongest storm to hit Hong Kong since 1979 when typhoon Hope killed a dozen people and injured 260.

Usagi was located about 370 kilometres east of Hong Kong as of 10:00 am (0200 GMT) and was expected to make landfall in the evening. The observatory said a "number eight" storm signal was possible, which would shut down most public transport.

China's National Meteorological Centre issued a "red alert" -- its highest-level warning -- as it forecast gale-force winds and heavy rain.

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

En route to Hong Kong and southern China, Usagi forced the evacuation of some 3,400 people in southern Taiwan, dumped more than 70 centimetres (27 inches) of rain on Hualien city, and forced more than 100 flights to be cancelled to and from the island.

A mudslide hit one hotel in a popular hot-spring resort area of Taiwan's Taitung county late Saturday, shattering windows and damaging some furniture.

"I heard a loud sound and (the mudslide) came through the windows of the restaurant in the back. Our customers were safe but we estimate losses of Tw$1.5 million ($50,000)," a hotel worker told reporters.

Remote villages elsewhere in Pintung county suffered heavy flooding.

"I thought a tsunami was hitting... I've never encountered this before in my life," said a 60-year-old woman who scrambled to safety with her pet dog.

Nine people were injured in Kinmen, a Taiwan-controlled island off China's Fujian province, after they were hit by falling trees, according to the Central Emergency Operation Centre.

But in the Taiwanese port of Kaohsiung, a giant yellow duck designed by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman -- which has already proved a huge hit in Hong Kong -- was set to be reflated for public viewing as wind speeds ebbed.

 Prior to Taiwan, Usagi brushed the far north of the Philippines where a man and a woman drowned when their boat capsized in high seas. Another two people are missing from the mishap.

Authorities in the Batan and Babuyan island groups, which are populated by about 33,000 people, reported toppled power pylons as well as houses, schools and government buildings losing their roofs to Usagi's high winds.

"Some roads are impassable due to debris, landslides and flooding. Local disaster officials told us this was the strongest typhoon they had experienced in years," regional civil defence officer Ronald Villa told AFP.

The region is regularly pummelled by tropical storms. Typhoon Bopha left a trail of destruction in the southern Philippines last year, triggering floods and landslides that left more than 1,800 dead and missing and displaced nearly one million people.

In August 2009, Typhoon Morakot killed about 600 people in Taiwan, most of them buried in huge landslides in the south, in one of the worst natural disasters to hit the island in recent years.

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