China issues alert as Typhoon Lekima approaches east coast

China issues alert as Typhoon Lekima approaches east coast
Typhoon Lekima and Typhoon Krosa approach China on August 8, 2019.

China has issued a red alert and suspended dozens of train services as the country’s eastern coast braces for Typhoon Lekima.

As of Friday morning, the storm has winds of 215kmh (133.5mph), making it the equivalent of a category 4 hurricane. It is moving northwest at a speed of 26kph.

The storm — which was briefly a “super” typhoon on Thursday before it weakened into a regular typhoon — is currently near Taiwan’s northern tip, and is set to hit Zhejiang Province on China’s east coast early Saturday morning local time. When it hits, it is expected to be equivalent to category 2 hurricane with winds around 150-160kmh.

Southern Zhejiang will be most affected by the winds, but other coastal areas — including areas north of Shanghai — are at risk from heavy rain and floods.

On Friday morning, China’s National Meteorological Center issued a red typhoon alert — the highest level — meaning businesses and schools in affected areas are advised to close. In Zhejiang’s Taizhou city, where the storm is expected to make landfall, 4,900 fishing boats have returned to ports and scenic spots have been shut, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Shanghai Railway has suspended all trains on 16 routes — mainly between Shanghai and Guangzhou in southern China — until Sunday. A further 29 routes between major southwestern cities such as Chengdu and Chongqing will also be suspended over the weekend, China Railway Chengdu Corporation announced.

China’s Ministry of Water Resources has dispatched emergency response teams to Zhejiang, Shanghai and Jiangsu provinces. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has advised people in rural areas across 10 different provinces to prepare for the incoming storm by securing items that could be lifted by the rough winds, and urged farmers to harvest their crops ahead of the typhoon making landfall.

On Friday, local authorities in Taiwan’s capital Taipei announced that businesses and schools would be suspended due to the typhoon. Although the island will be spared from the worst of the typhoon, it will still see some rain.

On Thursday, Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau issued sea and land warnings, asking residents to be prepared for strong winds and rain in five vulnerable areas — Keelung City, Yilan County, New Taipei City, Taipei City, and Hualien County. The Bureau also warned ships to Taiwan’s north and along the east coast to be “alert” to extreme weather.

The Taiwan Central Emergency Operation Center also warned residents to take preventative measures such as bringing outside objects inside, and avoiding the beach. Meanwhile, government authorities and agencies including the National Fire Agency have convened to discuss disaster response.

Lekima has already passed by the southern Ryukyu Islands of Japan, which include Okinawa, where locals experienced over 200mm (7.8in) of rain and winds of up to 168kph (104mph). Wind and rain are expected to ease Friday.

On Okinawa Islands, four people were injured by the storm, according to local authorities. Over 14,000 households on the islands — which have a population of 1.4 million people — were still without power on Friday morning, according to Okinawa Electric Company.

Lekima was the fourth typhoon in the western Pacific this week. Typhoon Wipha brought intense gales and rain to China last weekend, Typhoon Francisco made landfall in Japan on Tuesday, and Typhoon Krosa has now formed in the Pacific. The slow-moving Krosa has winds of 165 kph (102.5 mph) is expected to hit mainland Japan by the middle of next week.

Asia last saw a super typhoon in September, when Super Typhoon Mangkhut wreaked havoc across China, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Millions of residents were evacuated, and at least 54 people died.

Japan and Taiwan are generally well-fortified and built to withstand storms. But annual typhoon seasons still bring chaos — last summer, Japan had the strongest typhoon in 25 years, leaving at least 10 people dead.

CNN’s Robert Shackelford, Junko Ogura and Jessie Yeung contributed to this story.