By Farah Master, Joyce Zhou and David Kirton
HONG KONG - The Asian financial hub of Hong Kong and China's neighbouring populous province of Guangdong cancelled hundreds of flights on Friday as fears of powerful Typhoon Saola forced some mainland cities to shut businesses, schools and financial markets.
Packing winds of more than 200 kph (125 mph), the typhoon could make landfall late on Friday or early on Saturday in Guangdong, and rate among the five strongest to hit the southern province since 1949, Chinese authorities have warned.
All flights with Hong Kong between 2 p.m. (0600 GMT) on Friday and 10 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Saturday have been cancelled, said Cathay Pacific, the city's flagship carrier.
More than 100 people set to fly on Friday afternoon were dismayed to learn many of their flights had been cancelled when they tried to check in at Hong Kong's airport.
"It's very sad for me because I am not able to attend my daughter's oath taking," said a tearful Ledenila Barizo, 54 who had been due to fly to the Philippines, as she paced in front of the airline desk.
The weather will deteriorate rapidly as the typhoon makes landfall, Hong Kong weather officials said, with chances of storm surges of about 3 metres (10 feet) higher than the normal tide.
The maximum water levels could reach a record, they added, with a chance that the city's wind signal could be raised to its second highest between 6 p.m (1000 GMT) and 8 p.m. (1200 GMT)
Weather authorities in China have said Saola could make landfall along the coast between the cities of Huidong and Taishan. Hong Kong and Macau lie in the centre of that stretch.
"We can see that the eye of the typhoon will pass very close to Hong Kong," office worker Wai Yi said as she and her husband strolled by the sea in an eastern part of Hong Kong, which shut all schools, though Friday was the first day of term for many.
"I'm a bit concerned and hope it won't cause too many casualties."
Saola is one of three tropical cyclones to form in the northwest Pacific Ocean and South China Sea.
The second, Haikui, is approaching Taiwan, set to hit its east coast on Sunday before heading towards China's Fujian province, the island's weather officials said. Kirogi, the most distant from land, was classified as a tropical storm.
Authorities suspended trains services in Guangdong from 8 p.m. (1200 GMT) on Friday to 6 p.m. on (1000 GMT) Saturday, while the cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou have already shut schools.
Shenzhen, a city of more 17 million, also suspended work, businesses and financial markets from Friday afternoon, warning that destructive winds could lash it through Saturday.
"Of course I'm worried, it's forecast to be a big one and I want to get home," a delivery driver surnamed Lu said on a busy day for the city's supermarkets, many set to close early.
By 11 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Friday, the airports in Shenzhen and the nearby city of Zhuhai had cancelled hundreds of flights.
As a safety precaution, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge linking the three cities will also shut on Friday.
In Guangdong, officials of the Taishan nuclear power plant said it had halted outdoor operations and transferred out vulnerable materials, with emergency staff placed on duty.
In the gambling hub of Macau, weather officials said they would raise its wind warning level to the second highest on Friday, and the highest early on Saturday.
The destruction caused by typhoons depends on how long they linger over land, one expert said, citing the example of Tropical Storm Rumbia in 2018.
"Despite its moderate intensity, (it) had an exceptionally long lifespan, lasting a total of 132 hours, with over three days spent over mainland China," said climatologist Shao Sun of the University of California, Irvine.