HONG KONG (Reuters) - Typhoon Nesat hit Hainan island in south China on Thursday after it swept past Hong Kong, closing financial markets, schools and most businesses in one of Asia’s most biggest financial centres.
China recalled ships, suspended flights and ferry services in preparation for the typhoon, the official Xinhua news agency said, after it passed through the Philippines where it left at least 39 people dead and 31 missing .
“Nesat has made landfall over the northeastern part of Hainan Island this afternoon, and continues to move further away from Hong Kong,” the weather service said in a statement.
China evacuated around 58,000 people in the resort island of Hainan and urged schools to cancel classes ahead of the storm making landfall on its east coast, Xinhua added.
The typhoon will bring heavy rain to Hainan as well as the export-dependent province of Guangdong, and will impact upon a swathe of southern China over the next 24 hours, the report said.
No deaths were reported in Hong Kong and damage was minimal, but local television showed footage of at least two people who were hospitalised after being hit by falling debris as a result of strong winds.
Several window panes from the headquarters of Hang Seng Bank in the business district fell, but no one was injured.
Financial markets were closed all of Thursday after the Hong Kong Observatory’s No.8 typhoon warning signal.
Hong Kong has a series of different typhoon warnings. Schools, businesses and government services stop when any No.8 or above typhoon warning is issued.
The former British colony saw winds of over 120 kms (72 miles) per hour as Nesat went past it, having made its way there from the Philippines, where initial estimates of crop damage were revised up sharply.
The Philippines’ National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Angelito Banayo told Reuters that in the Central Luzon region alone, more than 103,000 tonnes of rice were damaged -- valued at more than $50 million.
“The streets are empty and all the shops are closed,” said Sharon Guan, a tourist who was waiting for her ferry at the China Ferry Terminal. “It’s so unusual to see Hong Kong so deserted at this hour.”
Tropical cyclones regularly hit Hong Kong, the Philippines and other coastal regions of south China in summer and early in autumn.
A ship weighing 1,677 deadweight tonnes ran aground in the early hours of Thursday morning, but there were no injuries, the Hong Kong Marine Department said.
Nearly 20 shelters were also set up around Hong Kong, while the government cancelled public events, including the daily flag raising ceremony at the city’s Victoria Harbour.
Usually crowded streets were devoid of people as its tram system stopped operations and the subway and bus systems cut trips. Trees felled by strong winds blocked some roads, while taxis asked for extra fare.
Hong Kong’s dominant airline Cathay Pacific said all its flights to and from the city were operating normally. Hong Kong International Airport’s website showed at least 40 departing flights were delayed or cancelled.
Ferry terminals that link Hong Kong to Macau, south China and outlying islands were also closed.
Angry tourists gathered at the Hong Kong-Macau ferry terminal next to the city’s business district, with some waiting in despair while others crowded around ticket counters demanding their money back.
“We all thought we would have a good time in Hong Kong, but it’s been a disaster,” said one tourist who gave her name as Huang. “All they want is to take our money, but when there is trouble, they disappear.”
Neighbouring Macau was also affected, with schools and businesses at the former Portuguese colony closed. But the city’s glittering casinos, including the Venetian Macau and the Wynn Macau, remained open for tourists who managed to make their way there.
($1 = 43.460 Philippine pesos)
Additional reporting by Alison Leung, Gary Ling and Stefanie Mcintyre in Hong Kong, Manny Mogato in Manila, and Sui-Lee Wee and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Ed Lane