As Typhoon Saola approaches Hong Kong, schools are closed and countless flights are canceled. Friday saw the closure of schools and businesses as well as the cancellation of hundreds of flights in Hong Kong and other parts of southern China as Typhoon Saola swept close to the coast, bringing with it strong winds and heavy rain that could be the region’s strongest typhoon in five years.
It had been a super typhoon on Thursday but was downgraded to typhoon status on Friday. However, its winds of 220 kilometers per hour (140 miles per hour) still make it the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane.
Previously, the storm affected areas of the northeastern Philippines.
According to Hong Kong’s Information Services Department, three individuals were injured and transported to the hospital. The Department of Home Affairs opened scores of temporary shelters. There have been seven reports of inundation but none of landslides.
As the typhoon approached the city, residents began preparing on Thursday, with many fleeing to supermarkets and stores to stock up on food and essentials.
The storm is anticipated to be closest to the city and the southern Guangdong province of China during the overnight hours of Friday and Saturday.
However, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, the storm’s center will likely remain offshore rather than advancing over land and will weaken as it approaches the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane.
On Friday, the Hong Kong Observatory (HKO) issued a T10 storm warning signal, the highest level of storm warning alert. Most institutions, schools, and businesses were closed on what was intended to be the first day of the academic year.
The eyewall of Saola – the ring of strongest winds that surrounds the hurricane’s calm eye – is now moving across the city, according to HKO, which added that “hurricane-force winds are affecting the eastern part of Hong Kong.”
In the coming hours, Saola will pass approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the south of the Hong Kong Observatory, according to HKO.
The observatory warned that the storm will continue to deliver heavy precipitation, violent winds, and storm surges with rising waters along low-lying coastlines. In 2018, the last T10 warning was issued for Typhoon Mangkhut, which killed ten people in neighboring Macau and caused significant damage in Hong Kong.
The typhoon has also caused widespread disruptions to air travel; as of Friday morning, the Hong Kong Airport Authority reported that 366 flights had been canceled and 40 more had been delayed. Cathay Pacific, the premier airline of Hong Kong, suspended all flights into and out of the city beginning Friday afternoon and lasting through Saturday.
As Saola approached Guangdong, mainland Chinese authorities issued a typhoon red warning, the highest level in a four-tiered alert system.
Friday, all classes, labor, businesses, markets, and transportation will be suspended in Shenzhen, a high-tech hub bordering Hong Kong. Friday at noon, its international airport suspended all operations.
The city has urged its 13 million residents to stay indoors and has opened sanctuaries for those needing refuge.
According to state news agency Xinhua, nearly 4,000 train services in Guangdong were suspended between Thursday and Sunday.
Hong Kong is not unfamiliar with tropical cyclones and typhoons, as they occur multiple times per year. According to HKO, three T8 warnings were issued in 2022, the third-highest warning for the city. The most recent T8 warning was published in July for Typhoon Talim.
In contrast, the city has a strong track record in recent decades of surviving direct strikes with minimal casualties.