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Typhoon weakens on path to China

A typhoon initially feared to be among the worst in 50 years weakened on a course to southern China after killing at least nine people in Taiwan and stranding hundreds more.
Image: Rescue workers remove a body from debris
Emergency rescue team members extract a body from the flood debris caused by passing Typhoon Megi at a temple in Ilan county, north eastern Taiwan on Friday.AP
/ Source: news services

A typhoon initially feared to be among the worst in 50 years weakened on a course to southern China after killing at least nine people in Taiwan and stranding hundreds more.

Typhoon Megi was set to hit China's Fujian province as a Category 1 typhoon, down from a 3 on a 1-5 severity scale, by Saturday and then fade to a tropical storm, forecasting service said.

It would miss world financial center Hong Kong and the industry-rich Pearl River Delta.

"It's showing signs of weakening," said Lee Tsz-cheung, a senior scientific officer with the Hong Kong Observatory. "We expect the intensity will gradually decrease until it makes landfall and decreases further."

Earlier, record rains from a powerful typhoon caused massive landslides in Taiwan that buried a Buddhist temple and trapped vehicles on a highway, where one bus carrying 19 Chinese tourists was missing Friday.

The mudslide at the temple killed nine people, and a total of 23 people were missing in Taiwan as Typhoon Megi swept toward southern China, where landfall was expected later Saturday. The storm earlier killed 26 people and damaged homes and crops in the Philippines.

Megi dumped a record 45 inches of rain in Taiwan's Ilan county over 48 hours. It had winds of 90 miles per hour and was about 275 miles southeast of Hong Kong on Friday evening, the Hong Kong Observatory said.

Nine people, including two Buddhist nuns, were killed at the White Cloud Temple in Suao city along the eastern coast when a mudslide buried the building, the Central Emergency Operations Center said Saturday.

Image: Locals push a car through flood damage i
Locals push a car through flood damage in Suao, eastern Taiwan on October 22, 2010. Taiwan's weather bureau issued a warning about Typhoon Megi as torrential rain caused landslides and interrupted railway traffic. Torrential rains left 20 Chinese nationals unaccounted for after their buses were trapped along a badly damaged highway, rescuers said. AFP PHOTO / Sam YEH (Photo credit should read SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)Sam Yeh / AFP

Two buses carrying Chinese tourists were on a six-mile stretch of a coastal highway in Ilan that was hit by at least seven rockslides Thursday night, Premier Wu Den-yih said. Nineteen people on one bus were rescued — five with light to moderate injuries — but the Taiwanese driver and the Chinese tour guide were still missing, Wu said.

There had been no contact with the driver, tour guide and 19 tourists aboard the other bus, he said. News reports Saturday cited a rescued traveler as saying he spotted a bus being hit by a boulder and falling into the sea. It is not immediately clear if the vehicle was the missing bus.

Officials said a 500-yard stretch of the highway had collapsed. The rockslides trapped about 30 vans, buses and cars, they said.

Air force helicopters were searching for the missing bus, while all other stranded travelers had been rescued by early Saturday, Interior Minister Chiang Yi-hua said.

The storm dumped heavy rains throughout Taiwan, but Ilan, about 90 miles southeast of Taipei, was the hardest hit. Authorities said more than 2,500 residents had been evacuated. Broad swaths of farmland in the county were under many feet of water.

Earlier this week, Megi killed more than two dozen people and damaged thousands of homes in the northern Philippines. The storm also forced 55,000 Filipinos from their homes and caused about $175 million in damage to infrastructure and crops, disaster officials said.

Megi was expected to hit China's southern Guangdong and Fujian provinces between Friday night and Saturday, meteorologists said.

In Fujian, authorities said 161,800 people were evacuated to safer places.

An official in Guangdong's Shantou city said fishermen were told to return to ports and authorities designated some 200 buildings in the city as emergency shelters.

"This kind of strong typhoon is very rare for this season in Shantou. We are treating it as a 'super strong typhoon' and making our preparations accordingly," said a relief official who only gave his surname, Chen.

In Vietnam, the death toll from severe flooding in four central provinces climbed to 75, including 14 victims from a bus swept off a road by strong currents, with six passengers still missing, disaster officials said Friday.

While Megi bypassed Vietnam, the country's central region was pummeled by 4.6 feet of rain over the past week, inundating large swaths of land, submerging nearly 280,000 houses and forcing more than 170,000 villagers from their homes.

Meanwhile, another storm, Cyclone Giri, was spinning in the Bay of Bengal and likely to make landfall Saturday in western Myanmar. The storm was expected to hit with winds of 75 mph  and a tidal surge as high as 12 feet.

Cyclone Nargis in 2008 killed 130,000 people in Myanmar.