(Adds details of higher storm signal, coastal impact)
HONG KONG, Sept 22 (Reuters) - A powerful typhoon headed towards the southern Chinese city of Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated cities on Earth, on Sunday amid warnings of severe flooding as well as strong winds in the event of a direct hit.
Typhoon Usagi, the strongest storm to hit the Western Pacific this year, began pounding the Asian financial centre late on Sunday. Over 370 flights were cancelled in the city, while residents rushed home ahead of what weathermen warned could be the strongest hit by a typhoon in years.
The No. 8 signal warning was hoisted as winds intensified and the famous harbour churned with waves. The storm, which killed two people in the Philippines, was expected to buffet the city through Monday, possibly closing financial markets and the stock exchange.
The storm has weakened from “super” typhoon status but winds of over 160 kilometres per hour were expected.
China’s National Meteorological Centre issued its highest alert, with more than 80,000 people moved to safety in Fujian province and authorities deploying at least 50,000 disaster-relief workers, the state Xinhua news agency reported.
Already, in coastal Fujian, the storm had taken out three major power lines, cutting off electricity supply to about 170,000 households, Xinhua added.
In Guangdong province, a major base for Chinese nuclear power, the Daya Bay nuclear power plant just east of Hong Kong had initiated emergency response schemes, Xinhua said. Four of the six power generating units at the plant had been ordered to operate at reduced load.
Major Chinese airlines cancelled flights to cities in southern Guangdong and Fujian while shipping was suspended between the China and Taiwan, state media added.
If a No. 8 storm signal remains in place after 7 a.m. on Monday (2300 GMT on Sunday), the Hong Kong stock exchange will be closed for at least part of the day, along with schools, businesses and non-essential government services.
China’s Agriculture Ministry had urged authorities in Fujian, Jiangxi and Guangdong provinces to mobilise farmers to harvest mature crops quickly, warning of potential damage to farmland.
Jiangxi province is a major rice producing region and the months of August and September are crucial for the development of late crops.
Usagi lashed the east and south coasts of Taiwan on Saturday after slamming into the Philippines’ northernmost islands where it cut communication and power lines and triggered landslides. (Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree, Venus Wu and James Pomfret; Additional reporting by Adam Jourdan and Fayen Wong; Editing by Nick Macfie)