The year's most powerful typhoon slammed into southern China, forcing hundreds of flight cancellations, shutting down shipping and putting a nuclear power plant on alert after pummelling parts of the Philippines and Taiwan.

Typhoon Usagi veered away from Hong Kong at the last minute before striking the mainland northeast of the former British colony.

Usagi — Japanese for rabbit — was classified as a severe typhoon and had sustained winds of 175 kilometres per hour, with gusts of up to 213 km/h, when it hit land Sunday evening.

The storm had been a super typhoon on Saturday when it passed through the Luzon Strait separating the Philippines and Taiwan, a path likely sparing both places from the most destructive winds near its eye.

In the Philippines, Usagi left at least two people dead and two others missing, while in Taiwan nine people were hurt by falling trees.

The typhoon landed near the city of Shanwei in the Chinese province of Guangdong, about 140 kilometres northeast of Hong Kong, and was moving west-northwest at 22 km/h, the Hong Kong Observatory said late Sunday.

Ferry services between Hong Kong and nearby Macau and outlying islands were suspended as the observatory reported winds as strong as 68 km/h and warned that a storm surge and heavy rains could cause flooding in low-lying areas.

8,000 fishing boats

Police in Shanwei ordered more than 8,000 fishing boats to return to port and more than 1,200 residents were taken to temporary shelters, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.

The typhoon wreaked havoc on airport schedules in Hong Kong, nearby Macau and mainland China, upsetting travel plans for many passengers who were returning home at the end of the three-day mid-autumn festival long weekend.

Hong Kong International Airport said 370 arriving and departing flights were cancelled and another 64 delayed. Two of Hong Kong's biggest airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways and Dragonair, cancelled flights to and from the city's airport starting at 6 p.m. Sunday, with plans to resume operations Monday if conditions permit.

Beijing-based Air China scrubbed 148 flights to and from Hong Kong, Macau and five nearby mainland cities. China Southern Airlines, based in Guangzhou, cancelled all flights to and from Hong Kong and three mainland airports, Xinhua said.

Fujian province suspended shipping between mainland China and Taiwan, the news agency said.

Authorities in Guangdong initiated an emergency response plan for the Daya Bay nuclear power station northeast of Hong Kong as Usagi approached, ordering four of six reactors to operate at a reduced load, Xinhua said

Landslide hits resort spa

In Taiwan, more than 3,300 people were evacuated from flood-prone areas and mountainous regions. Rail service was restored Sunday on a rail line that had been buried by a landslide.

Another landslide late Saturday in the southeastern hot springs resort village of Chihpen sent mud and rocks crashing through the ground floor of a resort spa, forcing the evacuation of frightened guests. The Chihpen River breached its levies upriver, turning the village's main street into a rock-strewn stream, flooding homes and damaging vehicles.

In the Philippines, two people drowned and two went missing when a passenger boat capsized in rough waters off northeastern Aurora province, the Office of Civil Defense said Saturday. Nine passengers and crew were rescued.

The typhoon set off landslides and flooded parts of six Philippine provinces, but additional casualties were not reported.