Super Typhoon Usagi slams into Taiwan

Storm downgraded to typhoon at 5:30 p.m. Saturday

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Super Typhoon Usagi slammed into Taiwan Saturday with strong winds and torrential rains hammering the east coast and southern parts of the island.
The Central Weather Bureau warned of a heightened danger of flooding in Yilan, Hualien, Taitung and Pingtung, though the eye of the storm did not make landfall and the storm was later downgraded to typhoon status.
On the island of Kinmen close to China’s Fujian Province, six people including a 10-year-old girl were sent to hospital after a tree collapsed on top of them while they were riding motorcycles, reports said. No fatalities were reported.
At 9 p.m., Usagi was centered about 160 kilometers southwest of Oluanpi, Taiwan’s southernmost point, and heading west-northwest to west at a speed of 19 km per hour, the bureau said. The super typhoon was packing sustained winds of up to 173 km per hour, with gusts reaching 209 km per hour, down from 198 km and 227 km earlier in the day.
The super typhoon had been described as the second fiercest storm to hit Taiwan in the past 20 years, but at 5:30 p.m. Saturday it was downgraded to the status of a regular typhoon. Land warnings were expected to be lifted at 8:30 Sunday morning.
The highest amount of rain recorded from Thursday morning until Saturday evening was 558 millimeters in Tatung, Yilan County.
The bureau warned the public not to underestimate the strength of the typhoon and the amounts of rain it would bring, because despite a quiet Saturday morning in the Taipei area, the worst of the storm was likely to be felt later in the day and Sunday morning.
Nationwide, the number of households who lost power was estimated at 76,000, with Taitung and Pingtung heavily affected. About 30,000 of them had their electricity supply restored by early evening, reports said.
In the popular tourism destination of Hengchun, strong winds blew visitors off the streets, reports said. Branches of trees and collapsed motorcycles were everywhere. The village of Chiupeng had to be evacuated because of the threat of flooding by seawater, with 4,000 people forced to leave their homes in the whole county. Residents told reporters they thought a tsunami had arrived. The local village chief said he had not seen such a flood in 60 years.
Landslides covered the road between Hengchun and Oluanpi in yellow mud, but traffic was still possible.
The storm disrupted traffic islandwide, with train services on lines close to the coast being suspended. Hualien Station was reportedly crowded by tourists eager to return home as the end of the four-day Mid-Autumn holiday approached.
Limited service was still available between Hualien and Yilan but only with local trains stopping at almost each station. An earlier promise to restore normal service by 6 p.m. was delayed until at least Sunday morning, reports said.
The southern cross-island railway between Kaohsiung and Taitung was closed all day Saturday. The same was valid for the tourist train up popular Alishan in Chiayi County. The storm did not affect regular train services along the west coast and the high speed rail was also operating as usual, though at lower speeds on some stretches, reports said.
The road going around the southern tip of the island was opened up at 6 p.m. Saturday, but after reports of landslides and high waves battering parts close to the sea, the authorities decided to close it down again four hours later.
Usagi was likely to reach Hong Kong Sunday or Monday, causing further disruption to international air traffic, reports said. Cathay Pacific and Dragonair reportedly canceled flights between Taiwan and Hong Kong scheduled for Sunday after 6 p.m. while China Air Lines canceled its flights beginning at 4 p.m., reports said. During the typhoon, many domestic air services were also suspended while some overseas flights were rescheduled to avoid the worse of the storm.
The weather bureau ended land warnings for Taichung and Changhua Saturday afternoon.
Schools and offices remained closed Saturday in most of Southern and parts of Central Taiwan, while they closed in the evening in Kinmen. The island’s ferry service with China was suspended until at least Sunday noon. The Taitung County Government said schools and offices Sunday would remain closed on Orchid Island and in the townships of Chinfeng, Tawu and Tajen.
Meanwhile, a new tropical storm called Pabuk formed near Guam Saturday, but it was expected to head for Japan, the weather bureau said.
Usagi even caused havoc with Taiwan’s military procurement plans, the Chinese-language United Evening News reported, as the delivery of the first of four P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft from the United States to a base in Pingtung County had to be postponed because of the foul weather.