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Typhoon Saola makes landfall in southern China but appears to cause only light damage

BEIJING (AP) — Typhoon Saola made landfall in southern China before dawn Saturday after nearly 900,000 people were moved to safety and most of Hong Kong and parts of the coastal mainland suspended business, transport and classes. Damage appeared to be minimal, however, and some services were returning to normal by afternoon.

Meanwhile, Taiwan issued a warning Saturday for a second typhoon, Haikui, which was expected to pass over the island Sunday, before traveling onward to the central Chinese coast.

Guangdong province’s meteorological bureau said the powerful storm churned into an outlying district of the city of Zhuhai, just south of Hong Kong at 3:30 a.m. It was weakening as it moved in a southwesterly direction along the Guangdong coast at a speed of around 17 kilometers (10 miles) per hour, prompting Hong Kong to resume flights and subway and rail train services.

On Friday, 780,000 people in Guangdong were moved away from areas at risk as did 100,000 others in neighboring Fujian province. More than 80,000 fishing vessels returned to port.

Workers stayed at home and students in various cities saw the start of their school year postponed to next week. Trading on Hong Kong’s stock market was suspended Friday and hundreds of people were stranded at the airport after about 460 flights were canceled in the key regional business and travel hub.

The Hong Kong Observatory had issued a No. 10 hurricane alert, the highest warning under the city’s weather system. It was the first No. 10 warning since Super Typhoon Mangkhut hit Hong Kong in 2018.

By mid-afternoon, that had been reduced to the considerably less serious Strong Wind Signal No. 3, although the Observatory warned of continuing rough seas and urged people to stay away from the coastline and refrain from watersports.

The observatory said Saola — with maximum sustained winds of 195 kilometers (121 miles) per hour — came its closest to the financial hub at around 11 p.m. Friday, skirting about 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of the city’s Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district. The storm’s eyewall, which surrounds its eye, was moving across the city overnight, “posing a high threat” to the territory, the agency said.

By Saturday, morning, it said, maximum sustained wind speeds had fallen to 145 kilometers (90 miles) per hour, falling to 77 kilometers (47.85 miles) per hour later in the day.

In recent months, China has experienced some of its heaviest rains and deadliest flooding in years in various regions, with dozens killed, including in outlying mountainous parts of the capital, Beijing.

As the storm’s heavy rains and strong winds closed in on Hong Kong, about 400 people sought refuge at temporary shelters and ferry and bus services halted. Residents of low-lying areas placed sandbags at their doors hoping to prevent their homes from being flooded.

The government said various departments received reports of a total of 1,206 uprooted trees and flooding was reported in 18 areas. It said 75 people, including 41 men and 34 women, sought medical treatments at public hospitals while the storm sideswiped the island.

Sixty-three people were reported injured, mostly by falling trees, although none were reported in serious condition.

Classes at all schools were to remain suspended Saturday.

Weather authorities in the nearby gambling hub of Macao also warned of flooding, forecasting that water levels might reach 1.5 meters (5 feet) in low-lying areas Saturday morning. The cross-border bridge connecting Hong Kong, Macao and Zhuhai was closed at midafternoon. Macao leader Ho Iat Seng ordered a halt to casino operations.

Parts of Taiwan were already feeling the effects of Haikui’s heavy rain and high winds, and dozens of domestic flights were canceled, along with air services to Hong Kong and Macao. The storm was packing maximum sustained winds of 137 kilometers (85 miles) per hour, gusting at up to 173 kilometers (107 miles) per hour, according to the island’s meteorological bureau.

Despite the twin storms, China’s military conducted more operations Friday night and early Saturday meant to intimidate Taiwan, a self-ruled island democracy that Beijing seeks to bring under Chinese sovereignty by force if necessary. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it had detected six Chinese military aircraft and three naval vessels around Taiwan during the 24 hours leading up to 6 a.m. Saturday.

It said the island’s armed forces were monitoring the situation and put aircraft, navy vessels and land-based missile systems on alert. However, it said there were no indications that the Chinese ships or aircraft had crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait or entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone as they often do.

Saola passed just south of Taiwan on Wednesday before turning toward mainland China, with its outer bands hitting the island’s southern cities with torrential rain. The typhoon also lashed the Philippines earlier this week, displacing tens of thousands of people in the northern part of the islands because of flooding.

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Associated Press writer Kanis Leung and video journalist Alice Fung contributed to this report.

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