Typhoon Neoguri hits China's Hainan

Other News Materials 19 April 2008 08:24 (UTC +04:00)

(AP) - Typhoon Neoguri weakened into a tropical storm Friday after hitting China's southern island province of Hainan, where 120,000 people fled low-lying areas and thousands more were stranded at an airport, state-run media reported.

The typhoon - the first to threaten China this year - began lashing the city of Wenchang on Hainan's northeast coast late Friday night. Xinhua News Agency reported it blacked out the city but Neoguri, which means "raccoon" in Korean, had been packing winds of 75 mph before weakening to tropical storm strength at 67 mph.

The storm on course to hit southern Guangdong province with a weakening force and heavy rains Saturday afternoon, Xinhua said.

About 3,000 passengers were stranded at the airport in the provincial capital, Haikou, after 76 flights were canceled because of Neoguri, the report said.

There was still no word about the 56 fishermen reported missing Friday after seeking refuge on a reef off Hainan's coast. As the storm approached Hainan, officials ordered 21,800 fishing boats to seek safe places, Xinhua said.

Hainan is famous for its beaches, resorts, orchards and fishing industry.

The last time China faced a typhoon so early in the season was before 1949, Chen Lei, a flood relief official, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

Strong gales caused the cancellation of ferries across the Qiongzhou Strait between Hainan and Guangdong early Friday, the agency reported.

About 120,000 people fled fish farms and low-lying areas in Hainan, Xinhua said.

China was planning to hold the country's first Ironman triathlon Sunday in Haikou, and organizers said the race was still on.