Powerful typhoon heads for China's financial hub

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SHANGHAI, Sep 18 (Reuters) A typhoon today churned on Tuesday towards China's booming eastern province of Zhejiang and financial hub Shanghai where tens of thousands of people were evacuated and ships and boats ordered to return to port.

Typhoon Wipha was 440 km (270 miles) southeast of Wenling in Zhejiang at 0730hrs IST. With wind gusts of up to 198 km per hour, it was moving northwest at 20 km per hour, skirting the northern tip of Taiwan, the National Meteorological Centre said.

The Hong Kong Observatory chart showed it heading directly for Zhejiang.

It was possible it could veer right and pass up China's coast without making landfall until the Korean peninsula, the National Meteorological Centre said on its Web site (www.nmc.gov.cn), describing the storm as a ''super typhoon''.

However, it was most likely to hit Zhejiang early on Wednesday morning and sweep across the province towards Shanghai.

About 200,000 people living in exposed areas in Shanghai, bordering Zhejiang in the north and with a population of over 14 million, would be moved to temporary shelter before evening.

Tens of thousands of boats and ships had returned to harbour in Zhejiang, where beach resorts and sea farms were evacuated and ferry services suspended, state media said.

''Wipha will hit our province head on and the areas affected would be the most economically developed and densely populated,'' the Zhejiang provincial government warned.

''Strong winds will come with heavy rainfall ... The relief work will be complicated and grave,'' it said in a statement on its Web site (www.zj.gov.cn).

Zhejiang's inland areas also faced the threats of floods and landslides caused by torrential rain, it said.

The edge of Wipha grazed northern Taiwan on Tuesday, bringing downpours and prompting the area to close schools, offices and markets.

The major northern port of Keelung stopped all traffic today until further notice, while five airlines cancelled some international flights.

Typhoons, large cyclones known as hurricanes in the West, regularly hit China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Japan in the summer season, gathering strength from the warm waters of the Pacific or the South China Sea before weakening over land.

Sometimes than make a u-turn, gather strength at sea again, and return to wreak more havoc.

REUTERS SS RN1047

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