September 25, 2005

Biggest typhoon in 30 years batters China island

BEIJING (Reuters) - A typhoon roared across China's
southern Hainan on Monday, the strongest storm to hit the
tropical resort island in more than 30 years, and forced more
than 170,000 people to flee their homes.

Typhoon Damrey had caused "casualties," flattened houses
and damaged crops on an island often referred to as China's
Hawaii since it made landfall on Sunday, but the full extent of
the destruction was unknown, a disaster relief official said.

"The primary threat now is strong winds, but judging from
our experience in recent years, river floods are also possible
if the heavy rains continue," he told Reuters by telephone.

He gave no details of the casualties and there was no
immediate word of damage to hotels. But he said 170,000 people
had been evacuated to safety.

"Some tourists who have reserved rooms cannot check in
because of the weather and those already in the hotel cannot
leave," said Melody Xu, public relations manager for the
Sheraton Hotel in the beach resort of Sanya.

"The hotel is on back-up power. Some rooms have no power
and the computer system is down, so I really have no idea of
how full the hotel is now... We hope the storm will be over
after dinner tonight and the guests can leave then, but it
shows no sign of weakening so far."

The west-moving typhoon was expected to sweep the island
throughout Monday and then head for Vietnam, south of the
capital, Hanoi. Experts warned that rice, rubber and banana
crops could suffer major damage.

In far southern Guangdong province, one fisherman was
missing after three boats capsized in choppy seas, the China
Daily said.

A ferry connecting Guangdong and Hainan had been suspended
since Friday, and some parts of Hong Kong's Disneyland had been
shut, the Beijing News reported.

The storm was packing winds of 200 km (125 miles) per hour,
Xinhua news agency said, making it comparable to Hurricane
Rita, which slammed into the Texas-Louisiana coast on Saturday,
causing flooding but largely sparing the U.S. region's

"The typhoon, with the wind speed of 55 meters per second
at the center, dwarfed all those that had hit Hainan since
1960," apart from a storm that struck the province on September
13, 1973, it quoted Cai Qinbo, deputy director of the Hainan
Provincial Meteorological Station, as saying.

Since the 1980s, Hainan, with a population of 8 million,
has been a Special Economic Zone of China and is notorious for
a series of construction scandals in the 1990s. It has also
played host to two Miss World finals.

Typhoons, known as hurricanes in the West, gather strength
from warm sea water and tend to dissipate after making

They frequently hit Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Hong
Kong and southern China during a season that lasts from early
summer to late autumn.

At the beginning of this month, Typhoon Talim killed 56
people in eastern China after unleashing torrential rain and
triggering floods and landslides.