HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong braced for severe tropical storm Hato on Wednesday with hundreds of flights and other transport services canceled, and schools and most businesses in the financial hub expected to be closed for the better part of the day.
The weather observatory issued its third-highest weather warning early in the morning and said Hato was expected to make landfall at around 100 kilometers to the west of Hong Kong in the afternoon.
"If Hato edges even closer or intensifies, it will pose considerable threat to Hong Kong. The chance of issuing a higher signal cannot be ruled out," it said.
Streets were largely deserted and the observatory warned of serious flooding in low-lying areas as the city battened down for what could be one of its worst storms in years.
Winds intensified in the morning with the maximum sustained winds recorded at Tate's Cairn and Waglan Island at 77 and 72 kilometers per hour, with maximum gusts of 103 and 86 kilometers per hour, respectively.
There will be no trading in Hong Kong's financial markets on Wednesday morning if the typhoon signal remains at 8 or higher at 9 a.m. (0100 GMT). Trading will be suspended for the whole day if the storm signal is still at 8 or higher at noon.
The city's flagship carrier, Cathay Pacific, said the storm would "severely" impact flight operations, with the majority of flights to and from Hong Kong between 2200 GMT Tuesday and 0900 GMT Wednesday to be canceled.
Other transport services including ferries to the gaming hub of Macau and outlying islands in Hong Kong were suspended.
The observatory said rough seas with swells were expected with maximum sustained wind speeds near Hato's center of 120 kph.
Financial markets, schools, businesses and non-essential government services close when the signal, No. 8, or above is hoisted.
Typhoon Nida was the last storm to close the stock exchange for the whole day in August last year.
(Reporting by James Pomfret and Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Robert Birsel and Leslie Adler)