Hong Kong lowers storm signal, markets to open in afternoon

HONG KONG Tue Jul 24, 2012 12:11am EDT

1 of 6. Fallen trees block a road after a typhoon in Hong Kong July 24, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's stock market and offices were expected to open after the city lowered its tropical cyclone warning late on Tuesday morning, with a severe typhoon that had battered the territory overnight with gale-force winds weakening and moving away.

Typhoon Vicente grounded flights and shut port operations by Monday evening and authorities hoisted the highest No. 10 tropical cyclone signal for several hours overnight, making it one of the strongest to hit the city in the past decade.

A government spokesman confirmed shortly after 10 a.m. (10.00 p.m. EDT) on Tuesday that the signal had been reduced to 3 from 8.

Financial markets, schools, businesses and non-essential government services close when a No. 8 signal or above is hoisted, posing a disruption to business in the capitalist hub and former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Typhoon Vicente began veering away from the city and weakening earlier on Tuesday but, with the No. 8 signal up, the stock market was closed for the morning.

With the signal lowered to 3, the stock market will open at 1 p.m. Hong Kong time (01.00 a.m. EDT).

Separately, China's National Meteorological Center issued an orange alert for Typhoon Vicente, the second highest warning level in China's four-tier typhoon warning system, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Strengthening gale-force winds uprooted trees, churned up huge waves in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour and sent debris flying, injuring some 30 people as Vicente slammed into the city and the western reaches of China's Guangdong province.

Fifteen flights were cancelled and more than 200 delayed late on Monday, aviation authorities said, although Hong Kong's main carrier Cathay Pacific said it planned to resume some flights. Affected airlines are expected to have to clear a sizeable backlog of stranded passengers.

The Hong Kong Observatory raised the No. 10 signal early on Tuesday as Vicente swept much closer to Hong Kong than initially thought, making this the first time the highest typhoon signal had been raised since 1999.

More than 30,000 Chinese fishing boats were alerted to return to harbour, with 10,560 fishermen taking shelter ashore in Guangdong, Chinese state media reported. Storm surges and sea wave warnings were heightened, with winds of up to 100 kph (60 mph) expected.

(Reporting by James Pomfret and Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Paul Tait)

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