HONG KONG Hong Kong raised its highest tropical cyclone warning on Tuesday as an intensifying severe typhoon edged closer towards the financial hub, grounding flights and forcing the port to close.
Financial markets, schools, businesses and non-essential government services close when any No. 8 or above signal is hoisted, posing a disruption to business in the capitalist hub and former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The Hong Kong observatory said it expected the No. 10 signal to remain in force overnight, meaning markets could be shut down in the morning.
Separately, China's National Meteorological Center issued an orange alert for Typhoon Vicente, the second highest warning level in China's four-tier typhoon warning system, state media reported.
Strengthening gale force winds overturned trees, churned up huge waves in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour and sent debris flying, injuring some 30 people as Vicente edged closer to the city and the western reaches of China's Guangdong province.
Twelve flights were cancelled and over 200 delayed late on Monday evening in Hong Kong, aviation authorities said.
"Vicente has intensified abruptly into a severe typhoon," said Wong Wing-tak, a senior Hong Kong observatory official.
Earlier in the afternoon, the brewing cyclone shuttered schools and port operations and sent office workers home amid torrential rain, many rushing to board buses, trains and ferries before a partial transport network shutdown.
The Hong Kong Observatory raised the No. 10 signal early on Tuesday as typhoon Vicente swept much closer to Hong Kong than initially thought, making this one of the strongest typhoons to hit the city in recent years.
Should the signal remain in force after 7 a.m. on Tuesday, the Hong Kong stock exchange will remain closed for at least part of the day after it dived 3 percent on Monday.
In southern China, more than 33,500 Chinese fishing boats have been alerted to return to harbour with 10,560 fishermen taking shelter ashore in Guangdong, Chinese state media reported, while storm surge and sea wave warnings were heightened with winds of up to 100 kph expected.
(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Alison Williams)