Wipha weakens but still pours misery

Tropical storm Wipha lost much of its punch as it roared ashore over densely populated eastern China on Wednesday but continued to rake the region with heavy rains and high winds.

The former typhoon, billed by state media as potentially the worst to strike in a decade, had sparked the evacuation of more than two million people but weakened rapidly after making landfall in the early hours of Wednesday.

It was later downgraded to a tropical storm, but state forecasters said it would continue dumping heavy rains along China’s already soaked eastern seaboard through Thursday.

Wipha made landfall in Zhejiang province, south of financial hub Shanghai, with winds up to 100km/h, flooding roadways and paralysing air transportation.

Despite fears of a major disaster, just two people have been reported killed so far, according to state media reports.

But the storm spread its share of destruction on the affected provinces, Xinhua news agency said.

More than six million people were affected by the storm in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, with more than 7 000 homes destroyed.

Direct economic losses in the two provinces totalled $631-million, Xinhua said.

Wipha was expected to churn northward through Wednesday and Thursday, avoiding a feared direct hit on Shanghai, before veering back out over the sea near Shandong province, the news agency said, quoting state weather forecasters.

Typhoons that hit China often career eastward toward Japan, which was already feeling Wipha’s impact on Wednesday.

At least one person was killed and three others were missing, Japanese officials said, due to flooding from torrential rains brought on by Wipha.

At least 13 000 people have been ordered or advised to flee their homes in northern Japan’s Akita prefecture, which also saw severe damage to rice fields and fruit farms, government agencies said.

China’s national meteorological agency said the eastern provinces of Zhejiang, Shandong, Fujian, Jiangsu and the Shanghai region would experience heavy rainfalls for the next two days.

Authorities in Shanghai had expected the city would be ravaged by the storm but meteorological officials on Wednesday backed off from earlier dire warnings.

“The impact is less serious than we expected,” said Zhu Jiadong, a meteorologist with the Shanghai Meteorology Bureau.

Authorities in the metropolis of 17-million had closed schools, ordered the evacuation of 291 000 people from low-lying areas and called ships and ferries back to port, according to the Shanghai Daily.

Similar measures had been taken along the eastern seaboard, media reports said, with at least 2.4 million people evacuated from their homes, Xinhua said.

The centre of the storm was expected to pass about 100km to the west of Shanghai, but its presence has already been felt in the city.

Xinhua said more than 80 streets there were flooded on Tuesday by the approaching storm’s rains, while nearly 50 flights were delayed and more than 20 cancelled at its two airports.

Wipha has also caused the postponement of two matches in the Women’s football World Cup, which Shanghai is hosting along with other cities in China.

Typhoons regularly hit China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea toward the end of August and in September.

Earlier this month Typhoon Fitow struck Japan, killing seven people, while on Sunday Typhoon Nari killed at least nine in South Korea. - AFP

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