May 17, 2006

Thousands Evacuated as Typhoon Targets China

HONG KONG - China evacuated as many as 320,000 people as the strongest typhoon on record to enter the South China Sea in May bore down on the south coast on Wednesday, causing flight and shipping delays around the region.

Typhoon Chanchu, packing winds up to 170 kmh (106 mph), was forecast to make landfall northeast of Hong Kong in Guangdong province later on Wednesday after killing 37 people as it swept across the Philippines last weekend.

Hong Kong radio said some 320,000 people were evacuated from the coast in Guangdong province while Xinhua news agency put the number at more than 180,000.

Xinhua quoted provincial rescue officials as saying that by Tuesday night 25,219 ships had been called back to port.

In Taiwan, where most areas were lashed by heavy rains, rescuers winched to safety the crew of an oil tanker that had run aground of the coast of Kaoshiung in the south after being hit by a large wave, television footage showed.

On the southern coast, road workers struggled to keep motorways along the coastline clear of debris including tree branches as large waves crashed over the embankments, television footage showed.

The government issued warnings to residents in central mountain areas of landslides and flooding caused by the heavy rain, as mountain rivers already had begun to rise, threatening bridges and roads.

Shipping links between Taiwan's outlying islands of Quemoy and Matsu and the Chinese coastline were suspended as the storm approached, media said, with the central weather bureau saying Quemoy and Penghu island's would be directly threatened.

In Hong Kong, winds of up to 65 kmh (40 mph) caused flight delays and some shipping services were suspended, but the former British colony's government weather observatory said the threat was receeding as Chanchu churned northwards.

In China, rescue ships and helicopters were standing by, and all sea transport to the Chinese island province of Hainan had been halted, the China Daily reported.

In the Philippines, Chanchu killed at least 37 people and "affected" about 53,300 people in wide areas of Luzon and the Visayas, the National Disaster Coordinating Council said in a report on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Richard Dobson in Taipei and Vivi Lin in Beijing)