HK buttons up as typhoon passes on way to China

HONG KONG (AP) — A typhoon lashed Hong Kong with wind and rain, closing down the bustling Asian financial center Wednesday before sweeping toward mainland China.

Offices, schools and courts were shut and the stock market halted trading as Typhoon Utor approached, bringing an eerie calm to the normally busy southern Chinese commercial hub. Dozens of flights were canceled and bus and commuter ferry services were curtailed because of the typhoon, which was packing gale-force winds with gusts of up to 138 kph (86 mph).

The storm, which also brought rough seas and pouring rain, was centered about 250 kilometers (155 miles) west-southwest of Hong Kong at around 1 p.m. local time. Forecasters said Utor’s intensity had weakened and it was expected to move northwest at about 16 kph toward China’s Guangdong province.

One person in Hong Kong was reported injured. Strong winds blew down 15 trees and two satellite dishes off rooftops, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported, but otherwise the city emerged largely unscathed.

Some 110 flights arriving at or leaving from the city’s airport were canceled while another 241 flights were delayed.

Along the coast of Guangdong, authorities were calling fishing boats to port and securing buildings and equipment at aquaculture farms. The storm was expected to make landfall near the city of Maoming in the afternoon before traveling northwest into Guangxi province.

Some flights and train service were suspended on the island province of Hainan. Almost 2,000 passengers were stranded Tuesday at the airport serving the resort city of Sanya.

Utor was this year’s strongest typhoon globally before it crossed the Philippines earlier this week, leaving at least seven people dead and four missing. One woman in northeastern Isabela province was seen on camera being swept away by a raging river. Her body was found later.

Dozens of fishermen were missing after the storm but most have now returned home, officials said.

Rescuers were still struggling to reach at least three isolated towns in the hardest-hit Aurora province, where the typhoon slammed ashore.

“As of now, we don’t have communication (with the three towns) and the roads are not passable, even to motorcycles, due to landslides, rockslides, and uprooted trees,” said Rey Balido, spokesman for the national disaster agency. He said authorities were taking alternate routes and that the Philippine air force will deliver relief goods.

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Associated Press writers Hrvoje Hranjski in Manila, Philippines, and Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.

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