GUANGZHOU - Typhoon Megi weakened as it moved closer to China's southern coast, where authorities have issued a high alert and stepped up preparations for landfall.
Megi was located 450 kilometers southeast of Hong Kong late on Thursday morning, generating winds of 175 km per hour - much weaker than the winds of 225 km per hour that slammed the Philippines earlier this week, the Hong Kong Observatory said.
While traveling north over the South China Sea, it was expected to gain momentum on Friday, then pare back again on Saturday to winds of 155 km per hour just before it lands in southern Guangdong province, according to the observatory.
Its winds will further weaken to 85 km per hour on Sunday as it moves inland, the forecast said.
Hong Kong officials and residents were wary given the destruction Megi wreaked earlier in the week. Villagers in Tai O installed metal barricades and moved electrical appliances like refrigerators and washing machines to higher ground, Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper reported on Thursday.
The State Oceanic Administration and other government agencies have ordered efforts to strengthen seawalls and protect fishing facilities, and to patrol risk areas.
Meanwhile, strong gale accompanying Megi struck the eastern coast of Guangdong province on Thursday, severely paralyzing air and sea traffic.
The Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines, one of the country's three major carriers, has cancelled four international flights from Guangzhou to Manila, capital of the Philippines, and Xiamen, Fujian province, to Manila since Tuesday.
International flights from Guangzhou to Singapore and Jakarta will also be affected in the coming two days due to the bad weather, China Southern Airlines said.
Domestic flights between Guangzhou and gale-hit coastal cities such as Shantou, Xiamen, Haikou and Sanya were also affected, sources at the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport revealed.
Megi, the 13th typhoon to hit the Chinese coast this year, is expected to land in Guangdong on Friday night or Saturday morning, said Zhang Dong, a senior forecaster at the Guangdong provincial meteorological administration.
Megi is bringing winds of up to 260 km per hour, making it the strongest typhoon to have appeared in the northwest Pacific Ocean since 1990 and the strongest globally this year, according to Zhang.
The railway ferry service across Qiongzhou Strait, which links the mainland to Hainan province, has been suspended for three days starting Thursday.
Many coastal cities in Guangdong, Fujian and Hainan have also cancelled or suspended their marine ferry services to avoid mishaps.
Xu Jianfeng, a resident of Shantou, said the gale was so strong that many people chose to stay indoors on Thursday.
The Guangdong provincial government has issued an emergency notice, urging relevant cities and departments to take effective and concrete measures to avoid or reduce casualties and minimize economic losses.
Meanwhile, Li Ronggen, vice-governor of Guangdong province, urged the Guangzhou Asian Games Organizing Committee to do everything possible to ensure the venues for the 16th Asian Games and the Asian Para Games suffer no damages in the wake of the storm.
"The sports gala must open in Guangdong's provincial capital as scheduled on Nov 12," said Li, who is also the commander-in-chief of Guangdong's Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.
Li urged local governments and departments to give priority to protecting agriculture, water conservancy projects and coastal and river dikes.
The Guangdong provincial government has sent 43 expert groups to inspect reservoirs, coastal and river dikes, water conservancy projects in the coastal areas before Megi strikes.
By noon on Thursday, 48,646 fishing boats had returned to shore while 11,476 fishermen and the marine personnel had been evacuated to safety in Guangdong.
In Fujian province, more than 150,000 people had been evacuated, and 53,100 fishing boats have been recalled to harbor, provincial flood control authorities said on Thursday.
In Hainan, China's southernmost island province, 26,060 fishing boats returned to harbor and officials also prepared tents, flashlights, food and disinfectant.
Railway authorities have resumed train services into and out of Hainan after they were suspended on Oct 19, as Megi's impact is expected to be less than forecast.