July 23, 2012 / 10:57 AM / 7 years ago

Typhoon sweeps toward Hong Kong and south China

Firemen try to remove a broken tree which hit a car, in which the driver left safely, during a typhoon in Hong Kong's rural Taipo district July 23, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong was lashed by gales on Monday as typhoon Vicente moved towards the financial hub, sending office workers home early and prompting the local observatory to raise the No. 8 tropical cyclone warning signal, the third highest classification.

Financial markets, schools, businesses and government services close when any No. 8 or above signal is hoisted, posing a major disruption to business in the capitalist hub and former British colony.

Gale-force winds pounded trees, churned up white-tipped waves in Victoria Harbour and sent debris flying. Office workers, meanwhile, scurried home in mid-afternoon, queuing for trains, buses and ferries amid torrential rains.

The Hong Kong Observatory raised the No. 8 signal after the stock market closed on Monday. Should the signal remain in force after 7 a.m. local time on Tuesday, the exchange will remain closed for at least part of the day after it dived three percent on Monday, led by a 5 percent slump in Europe’s largest bank, HSBC Holdings.

Wong Wing-tak, a senior scientific officer with the Hong Kong Observatory, said late on Monday afternoon that Vicente wouldn’t likely hit Hong Kong directly and was forecast to cross 150 kilometers southwest of the city.

In southern China, officials in Hainan island issued a red alert amid heavy rains and thunderstorms as the typhoon approached, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Winds were expected to strengthen to up to 100 kilometers per hour along the southern Chinese coast, it added.

Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani

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