"Super typhoon" regains strength and aims for China

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A “super typhoon” regained strength and headed for southern China on Wednesday after wreaking havoc across the northern Philippines, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least 15 people.

Chinese ports recalled vessels as Typhoon Megi looked set to make landfall on Saturday east of Hong Kong, one of the most crowded cities on Earth and long used to cyclonic storms which threaten between May and September, many after hitting the Philippines.

The Hong Kong observatory raised standby tropical cyclone signal No. 1 as Megi moved to within 800 kms (500 miles) of the financial hub.

The lives of more than 256,000 people were disrupted by Typhoon Megi, which isolated coastal and mountain areas in the rice-producing northern Philippines, said Noel Lopez, provincial administrator of Isabela province. Many had been evacuated in the path of the storm.

Zambales in the northwestern part of Luzon was declared a state of calamity due to flooding while over 200,000 metric tons of rice crops were destroyed in the storm.

“This is the worst typhoon to hit our province in nearly 20 years,” Lopez told Reuters, adding that 80 percent of houses in four coastal towns had been damaged or destroyed. “We’re thankful to the Lord because there was minimal losses in terms of lives.”

Oil platforms in the eastern part of the South China Sea were evacuated on Wednesday, a source said. Asia’s top oil refiner, China’s Sinopec Corp, suspended some small volumes of fuel loading destined for Hong Kong, another source said.

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“It’s one of the biggest (typhoons) in recent years,” said Kong Wai, a scientific officer with the Hong Kong Observatory, adding that it was expected to make landfall on Saturday and pick up strength in the warm waters of the South China sea.

Hong Kong’s Cable Television said a Taiwan vessel had sunk in the storm and at least one sailor died.

About 2,500 fishing boasts in Haikou, the capital of the Chinese resort island province of Hainan, had returned to harbor on Tuesday and the city of Sanya was taking down billboards, the China Daily said, to prevent injuries. Trains from the island had been halted.

Megi had winds in excess of 250 kph (155 mph) when it hit Isabela province on Monday. It lost strength overland, only to pick up energy again from the warm sea waters west of the Philippines.

Tropical Storm Risk's ( projections show the storm hitting the Chinese coast between Hong Kong and Zhangzhou later in the week.

Flooding in Cambodia, meanwhile, claimed at least 8 lives and wrought an estimated $70 million in damage to roads, irrigation systems, bridges and homes, officials said.

“We hope for assistance from development partners, local and international charities,” Nhim Vanda, vice chairman of the National Committee for Disaster Management told Reuters.

In Thailand, flooding has killed at least 11 people in the past 10 days, and heavy rains meant there was a risk of flooding in parts of Bangkok on Wednesday.

“If rain continues and pushes water levels in the reservoirs over the limit, areas along the riverbank in Bangkok may flood, with rising sea water making things worse,” Department of Disaster Prevention director-general Vibul Sanguanpong said.

Additional reporting by Manny Mogato in Manila, Ambika Ahuja in Bangkok and Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh; Editing by David Fox