Hong Kong braces for powerful Typhoon Saola

A man walks past the empty Exchange Square during Typhoon Saola in Central, Hong Kong, China, on Friday. Photo by Bertha Wang/EPA-EFE

Sept. 1 (UPI) -- Schools and businesses shut down in Hong Kong on Friday as Typhoon Saola threatened the area with powerful winds.

The storm sat about 87 miles east, southeast of Hong Kong as of Friday afternoon local time and was expected to make landfall late Friday to early Saturday.

Saola is one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the region with wind speeds of 140 mph, which would register it as a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. At one point, the wind speed topped 150 mph, which would have made it a Category 5 storm.

The Hong Kong Observatory, which monitors the weather in the region, issued a rare No. 8 signal early Friday morning. The local airport said about 366 flights were canceled and 40 more were delayed.

Should the observatory issue its highest warning, No. 10, it would be the first time doing so since 2018.

Some of the cancellations forced passengers to camp out at Hong Kong International Airport as the storm moved close.

"We have to arrange our own accommodation," George Kiousis said, who had traveled from Greece to Hong Kong on vacation. "Most of the hotels around the area are fully booked."

The observatory said Saola has a well-defined eyewall and compact circulation.

"As Saola continues to edge closer to Hong Kong, the weather will deteriorate rapidly later during daytime today," the observatory said on Friday.

On the Chinese mainland, Shenzhen, a high-tech hub bordering Hong Kong, suspended all classes, work, businesses, markets and transportation on Friday. The city's international airport also shut down by midday Friday.

Train officials canceled nearly 4,000 train services in Guangdong will likely remain that way through Sunday.