The most powerful typhoon of the year swept through the Luzon Strait separating the Philippines and Taiwan on Saturday, battering island communities and dumping rain as it eyed landfall in Hong Kong.

Typhoon Usagi had maximum sustained winds of 222 km and gusts exceeding 260 kmph on Saturday morning, and was 550 km south of Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, according to the U.S. Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau said Usagi was veering west, likely sparing southern Taiwan from the most destructive winds near its eye.

But gusts exceeding 230 kmph were recorded on the Taiwan island of Lanyu, and the bureau warned that dangerous winds were buffeting the holiday resort of Kending on the Hengchun peninsula as the storm makes its closest approach to the area.

In the Philippines, Usagi triggered landslips and power outages in parts of the north of the country, including the Batanes island group, where it made landfall early Saturday. No casualties have been reported.

The government’s weather bureau warned that storm surges and heavy waves could cause damage in the Batanes and other islands in the Luzon Strait before Usagi blows past the Philippines on Saturday night.

China’s red alert

China’s National Meteorological Center announced a red alert, its highest level, as the storm maintained its track toward Hong Kong and the manufacturing heartland of the Pearl River Delta. The observatory warned that Usagi would impact coastal areas of Guangdong, Zhejiang and Fujian provinces.

In Taiwan, nearly 2,500 people were evacuated from flood-prone areas and remote mountainous regions as the government deployed military personnel into potential disaster zones. The storm system has dumped more than 200 mm of rain along the eastern and southern coasts in a 13-hour period, with officials warning that a total rainfall of 1,000 mm could drop before the storm leaves on Sunday.

Local officials closed mountain highways blocked by landslips and suspended train services connecting the east and west coasts as power outages affected thousands of homes.

Damage in Manila

The Office of Civil Defense in Manila said landslips damaged houses and roads, and pockets of power outages were reported in at least five northern provinces, where several roads and bridges were impassable — AP