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Typhoon batters China; 2 million flee

Times Staff Writer

A powerful typhoon slammed into China’s east coast early today, hours after Chinese authorities evacuated more than 2 million people with the help of text messages and old-fashioned knocks on the door.

All along the heavily populated eastern seaboard, officials shut down schools and factories and ordered ships and fishing boats back to port as cadres in raincoats hustled residents from homes at low elevations, clutching plastic bags of possessions.

By Tuesday evening, more than 2 million people in Shanghai, Fujian and Zhejiang provinces had been moved from harm’s way. In Zhejiang alone, where Typhoon Wipha came ashore, about 1.6 million residents were uprooted, the area’s biggest evacuation in nearly six decades of communist rule.

Zhejiang authorities also put 20,000 members of the People’s Liberation Army and other emergency workers on standby and said all officials had to put storm duty ahead of other tasks to aim for “no death, few injuries and as little damage as possible,” the New China News Agency reported.

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The Shanghai Daily reported that at least one person died after stepping in water touched by an electric wire. Torrential rains pounded Shanghai, China’s financial capital, powerful gusts knocked children to the ground, and traffic was tied in knots. Electrical power and water supplies were cut in some locations.

The city’s zoos stepped up security, cutting off electricity and locking animals in cages to guard against injury or escape.

To the south, officials in Fujian province sent 1.4 million text messages warning people as the typhoon was approaching and urging them to stock up on food and water and avoid going outdoors once the storm struck, according to local flood-control headquarters.

In Shanghai, a city of 20 million people, more than 291,000 were relocated by Tuesday evening. Zhang Jiayi, deputy chief of the city’s flood-control headquarters, called the storm the most severe test Shanghai had faced in decades.

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Parades of festooned cars marking Shanghai’s annual tourism festival were canceled Tuesday, as were some Women’s World Cup soccer matches.

Wipha, a feminine name in Thai, had lost strength but was still a severe typhoon with sustained winds of 100 mph when it reached land. The storm weakened further to a tropical storm as it moved northward, with winds of 56 mph, according to the Chinese Meteorological Center.

It brought heavy rains and power outages to Taiwan on Tuesday as it swept past. A construction worker was killed when strong winds knocked down scaffolding, Taiwan’s Disaster Relief Center reported.

Typhoons, known as hurricanes in the West, regularly hit China, the Philippines and Japan in the summer season, gathering strength in the Pacific or the South China Sea.

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The deadliest storm to hit China was Typhoon Winnie in 1997. It claimed 236 lives.

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chingching.ni@latimes.com

Times staff writer Don Lee in Shanghai contributed to this report.

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