Thousands evacuated, flights canceled as deadly Typhoon Conson strikes southern China

By Chi-chi Zhang, AP
Friday, July 16, 2010

Thousands evacuated as typhoon hits southern China

BEIJING — A typhoon that left a trail of destruction and deaths in the Philippines hit southern China late Friday as emergency workers prepared for torrential rains and lashing winds, flights and ferries were canceled and tens of thousands of residents were evacuated.

Typhoon Conson had weakened to a tropical storm after blowing out of the Philippines, where 39 people were dead and the number of missing climbed to 84. But it restrengthened to a typhoon with winds of up to 78 miles per hour (126 kilometers per hour) and hit the city of Sanya on Hainan island at 7:50 p.m. local time Friday, China’s National Meteorological Center said.

The center’s website provided no other details. Xinhua News Agency reported one death from the storm later Friday: a motorcyclist who was struck by a falling billboard.

Heavy rain fell on Hainan as the typhoon approached and conditions were dark and windy, said a receptionist who answered the phone at the Mandarin Oriental in the city of Sanya.

“If the wind starts to pick up, it may uproot some of the smaller trees. We are recommending to guests that they stay indoors,” said the woman, who would not give her name.

Authorities dispatched relief workers in preparation for the storm and ordered thousands of boats to dock. More than 150 passengers were stranded at a port after ferry services were suspended, Xinhua said. Twenty-eight flights were also canceled.

“Even though typhoons are common in our region, we are still taking precautionary safety measures,” said an official at the provincial meteorological bureau who refused to give her name as is common among Chinese bureaucrats.

In addition to Hainan, parts of Guangdong province and neighboring Guangxi region will see torrential rains over the next 24 hours as Conson moves toward the northwest at 9 to 13 mph (15 to 20 kph).

Nearly 40,000 people in Hainan and more than 20,000 people in Guangdong were evacuated from areas in the projected path of the typhoon, Xinhua said.

The storm should continue its northwest path inland over the weekend, heading toward southwest China and northern Vietnam.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung urged authorities in 23 northern and central provinces on Friday to ban ships and fishing trawlers from sailing. He also ordered local governments to evacuate people from high-risk areas and to advise others to stockpile food and medicine.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, in a nationally televised emergency meeting, scolded the weather bureau for failing to predict that Conson would hit Manila, which left government agencies unprepared for the onslaught.

At least 39 people died in the Philippines, including 14 fishermen whose bodies were recovered by the navy, coast guard and policemen in Bataan province, west of Manila, on Thursday. Nine died when a wayward oil barge slammed into their boats, which were moored near Mariveles town, the coast guard said.

Five others were found at sea off Bataan, where their boats sank.

The number of missing soared as emergency crews restored electricity and fixed communication problems between Manila and nearby provinces on Luzon island, the national disaster agency said.

Many parts of China have been pounded by storms this summer, though areas expected to be hit by Conson had not been seriously affected so far. Flooding and subsequent landslides in communities along the Yangtze River and other scattered parts of China have killed 135 people so far this month, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said. Direct economic losses in July reached 26 billion yuan ($3.8 billion).

Conson was not expected to hit the areas in China already battered by weeks of flooding.

In Japan, police said landslides caused by heavy rains killed two people in Hiroshima while another was swept away in a swollen river. Eight people were missing across western and central Japan.

Associated Press writers Jim Gomez in Manila, Jay Alabaster in Tokyo and Tran Van Minh in Hanoi, Vietnam, contributed to this report.

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