TAIPEI, Taiwan – The most powerful typhoon of the year swept through the Luzon Strait separating the Philippines and Taiwan on Saturday, battering island communities and dumping rain as it eyes landfall in Hong Kong.
Super Typhoon Usagi had maximum sustained winds of 222 kph (139 mph) and gusts exceeding 260 kph (163 mph) Saturday morning, and was 550 kilometers south of Taipei, Taiwan's capital, according to the U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center. A storm achieves super typhoon status when winds reach 240 kph (150 mph).
Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau said later Saturday that Usagi was veering west, likely sparing southern Taiwan from the most destructive winds near its eye.
But gusts exceeding 230 kph (144 mph) 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 Saturday. 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 on Saturday night.
China's National Meteorological Center announced a red alert, its highest level, as the storm maintained its track toward 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 U.S. Navy's warning center predicted that Usagi will approach Hong Kong with weaker but dangerous sustained winds of 176 kph (110 mph) early Monday morning, while the Hong Kong Observatory hoisted the No. 1 Standby Signal and 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 millimeters (8 inches) along the eastern and southern coasts in a 13-hour period, with officials warning that a total rainfall of 1,000 millimeters (39 inches) could drop before the storm leaves Sunday.
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 1,100 kilometers (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. Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau warned winds of 100 kph (63 mph) could hit Taipei.
The Office of Civil Defense in Manila said landslides damaged houses and roads, and pockets of power outages were reported in at least five northern provinces, where several roads and bridges were impassable.
Cathay Pacific Airways and Dragonair said flights Saturday were unaffected except for one canceled flight, but both airlines warned of delays and cancelations at Hong Kong International Airport from Sunday evening to Monday morning, and urged passengers to postpone non-essential travel on those two days.