China issues top warning for strong typhoon nearing coast

BEIJING — China issued its top warning for coastal areas of Zhejiang province Friday ahead of a strong typhoon expected to bring heavy rain and winds within hours.

Heavy rain was expected in Zhejiang, Shanghai and nearby provinces on Friday before Typhoon Lekima hits land on Saturday morning, then weakens as it moves north.

Parts of northern Taiwan closed offices and suspended classes at schools on Friday as the storm passed northeast of the island. The same area was hit by a magnitude 6.0 earthquake Thursday that caused minor damage but no deaths or injuries.

The red alert China issued is the most serious in its four-tired alert system, prompting authorities to prepare evacuations, suspend train and air travel and require vessels to return to port. In Zhejiang, ferry service had been cancelled and more than 200 tourists evacuated from popular Beiji island.

The National Meteorological Center said Lekima was gusting at 209 kph (130 mph) and traveling northwesterly at 13 kph (8 mph).

The State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters on Wednesday issued a circular to seven provinces including Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangsu and Shanghai Municipality, telling authorities to prepare to be prepared and have emergency response systems in place to be deployed.

The typhoon is also expected to trigger an intense storm surge in the estuary of the Yangzte River, China's mightiest, beginning Friday. Three main streams of the Yangzte River are likely to exceed alert levels and the commission overseeing the river for the Ministry of Water Resources has ordered efforts to prevent floods and oversaturation of levees along the river's banks.

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