The Hong Kong Observatory downgraded the No 9 storm signal to No 8 at 7.40am on Wednesday as Typhoon Higos began to depart the city.
At 5am, the weather forecaster of Macau, which is just an hour from Hong Kong by ferry, issued the highest signal –No 10 – and said it will “remain in effect for a period of time”.
Intensifying winds resulted in the No 9 storm signal, the second-highest storm warning, being issued for Hong Kong at 1.30am on Wednesday.
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The weather forecasters had earlier warned of a storm surge threatening low-lying areas of Hong Kong with flooding or a backflow of seawater by morning. High seas with swells were also expected.
At 5.45am, the Hong Kong Observatory issued a landslip warning, urging the public to stay away from steep slopes.
It also issued an amber rainstorm warning at 11.20pm, the lowest in a three-level system. The alert meant heavy rain had fallen or was expected to fall generally over Hong Kong, exceeding 30mm in an hour, and was likely to continue.
An No 8 signal signifies that winds with mean speeds of 63km/h or more are expected while the No 9 warning means gale or storm force winds are increasing or expected to increase significantly in strength.
The meteorological agency said that at 5am, Higos was estimated to be about 80km west to southwest of the city, moving northwest or west to northwest at about 20km/h.
It was the first time the No 9 signal had been issued since Super Typhoon Mangkhut on September 16, 2018, which gradually intensified into a powerful No 10 storm. Higos is the third storm of the typhoon season and the strongest so far to affect the city this year.
“Higos is expected to start departing Hong Kong in the next several hours, and will then make landfall to the west of Pearl River estuary. However, Higos is still bringing heavy squally showers to the coast of Guangdong,” the Observatory said at 4.45am.
Sustained winds at Cheung Chau hit 104km/h at 4am, while speeds of 89km/h were recorded at Waglan Island and 77km/h at Cheung Chau Beach.
The Home Affairs Department opened 36 temporary shelters in various districts and 50 people had sought refuge. As of 1.30am, the 1823 government call centre had received five reports of fallen trees. No reports of landslide and flooding had been received.
No one had sought medical treatment at public hospitals because of the typhoon as of 1am, the Hospital Authority said.
Overnight franchised bus services have been suspended.
Due to the mass cancellation of passenger flights from the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong International Airport had been using one runway since April, however, both were being used to ease the potential disruption from Higos. Several planes were unable to land on the first attempt and two diverted as a result of the conditions at the airport.
Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing said on Twitter that trading in the after-hours session was suspended at 10.55pm because of the issuance of the No 8 signal.
Separately, a flood alert system for Tai O on Lantau Island had been activated. The village is particularly vulnerable. The Home Affairs Bureau said waters could rise by 3.3 metres above sea level and risked serious flooding. Residents in low-lying areas were advised to take shelter in safer spots.
It took under 22 hours for Higos to go from the No 1 standby signal to a No 9 warning, underscoring how swift the typhoon developed.
For a lot of Hongkongers, the first typhoon signal this year of at least No 8 – an alert long taken as official approval to stop work and go home – may have less meaning as many employees are already working from home ready because of the pandemic.
Weather forecasters expected Wednesday to be windy with squally showers and thunderstorms, as well as rough seas. Showers were also likely on Thursday, with the conditions easing by the weekend.
The Home Affairs Department activated a round-the-clock hotline, 2572 8427, for public inquiries on the tropical cyclone.
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