Southeastern provinces evacuate coastal areas ahead of Fitow's fury

'Golden week' tourists told to leave islands as rare October typhoon is expected to make landfall on border of Fujian and Zhejiang

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 October, 2013, 1:43pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 October, 2013, 5:12am

Southeastern coastal areas were bracing for Typhoon Fitow yesterday, as the rare late-season typhoon was expected to make landfall overnight between Fujian and Zhejiang.

The National Meteorological Centre had issued a red alert - the highest level in its four-tier warning system - and urged local authorities and residents to take precautionary measures as soon as possible.

Zhejiang, Fujian and Shanghai had reportedly removed "golden week" tourists from offshore islands. Fujian authorities had evacuated about 96,000 people from low-lying areas.

Fitow, classified as a "strong" typhoon, was expected to dump up to 500mm of rain and lash coastal communities with gusts of up to 180km/h, meteorological authorities said. A storm surge of up to two metres was predicted for the coast. The typhoon was forecast to make landfall near the border between Fujian and Zhejiang, but its movement was difficult to predict due to the influence of Typhoon Danas, which formed to the east of Fitow and was forecast to hit Okinawa and pass between Japan and Korea.

Typhoons rarely make landfall north of Fuzhou in October. Fitow would be only the third since 1949 to do so, after typhoons Krosa in 2007 and Tilda in 1961.

Water Resources Minister Chen Lei , who is also deputy director of the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief, said state leaders were very concerned about the strength of the storm.

"[It's] landfall is expected to coincide with an astronomical high tide, and then … the worst situation may occur with wild winds and high water," Chen said in a speech posted on the ministry's website. "The affected regions are the most developed areas in eastern China, especially Shanghai, Hangzhou , Ningbo and Wenzhou . It is the peak of tourism during the national holiday," Chen said. "Evacuation for tourists is difficult and huge casualties could easily occur. The situation is very grim."

Premier Li Keqiang and Vice-Premier Wang Yang urged authorities to take every measure to minimise injuries and damage.

Authorities had shut down beach resorts and banned tourists from approaching shorelines, Xinhua reported. Fishing boats were urged to seek safe harbours - with about 3,600 having already returned to Wenzhou by yesterday afternoon.

The ongoing Shanghai International Music Fireworks Festival had been postponed until Tuesday, the organiser said on its website.

Travel was also affected as airlines cancelled flights and rail authorities called off high-speed rail trips to cities in the storm's path. In all, more than 40 trains were cancelled yesterday.

China Eastern Airlines had cancelled about 40 flights to Taipei, Wenzhou, Taizhou and Fuzhou as of yesterday afternoon, warning the list could grow as the weather worsened.

"Fitow may reach far inland … causing strong winds and heavy rain in southern China, and we cannot rule out the possibility that it will run into the cold front from the north and cause serious flooding," Chen said.

The People's Liberation Army and armed police forces had been mobilised for disaster relief and sensitive facilities in costal regions such as nuclear power plants, oil refineries and dams had been told to stay on high alert around the clock.