Near miss on Hong Kong as Typhoon Hagupit rages past

(dpa) - Flights were grounded and schools closed as Typhoon Hagupit side-swiped Hong Kong Wednesday, but the high-rise city of 6.9 million people was spared a direct hit.

Hundreds of trees were felled and roads were flooded as torrential rain and gale-force winds lashed the former British colony, grounding all flights after 9 pm Tuesday.

The ferocious typhoon, one of the strongest to hit the region this year, passed within 180 km of Hong Kong and was expected to make landfall Wednesday morning in neighbouring southern China.

Schools remained closed Wednesday as a clean-up operation got under way, but public transportation was back to normal, and Cathay Pacific and Dragonair said they would resume flights starting at 8 am.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong Observatory weather centre told government-run radio station RTHK that the storm would have been "devastating" had it scored a direct hit on the city.

"It is one of the strongest typhoons we have seen for quite a while with winds of 170 km per hour," the spokesman said.

Forecasters said that Hong Kong would continue to be battered by storm force winds and heavy rain throughout Wednesday.

Typhoon Hagupit, whose name means "lashing" in Filipino, caused five deaths Monday when it raged across the northern Philippines before crossing the South China Sea to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong was hit directly three weeks ago by a weaker typhoon, which sparked a high alert from authorities but caused little damage.

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