Image: Motorcyclist rides against wind
Zhao Yingquan  /  AP
A motorcyclist rides against a strong wind in Wenchang City, south China's Hainan province, on Friday.
updated 4/20/2008 11:22:24 AM ET 2008-04-20T15:22:24

Rescue officials expanded their search Sunday for 18 Chinese fishermen still missing after tropical storm Neoguri brushed over southern Hainan island this weekend.

Five rescue ships and two helicopters have been deployed in the search mission, said an official with the Hainan provincial disaster relief office who gave his surname as Wu.

Three fishing boats went missing in the storm and rescuers have so far found 44 of their crew, Wu said. He added that China has contacted officials in Vietnam and the Philippines to see whether ships from those countries had rescued any of the 18 men still missing.

China’s first typhoon of the year hit land Saturday afternoon but weakened to a tropical storm and moved into the western part of Guangdong province.

Torrential rains were still lashing southern Guangdong province Sunday, but an emergency alert for wind storms had been lifted, according to a report by the China News Agency.

Neoguri had initially hit Hainan’s northeastern coast with gusts of up to 38 miles per hour, blacking out the city of Wenchang and stranding about 3,000 passengers at the island’s main airport in Haikou, the official Xinhua News Agency reported earlier.

About 21,800 boats with 80,000 fishermen were ordered to return to port ahead of the storm, Xinhua said.

Hainan is famous for its beaches, resorts, orchards and fishing industry.

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