Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing their homes in the Philippines as Super Typhoon Mangkhut bears down on the region, while China’s meteorological authority raised a yellow storm alert on Friday.
The alert is the second level on a four-tier warning system, and the authority has predicted the monster storm would make landfall near western Guangdong and eastern Hainan late Sunday, or early Monday.
In Hong Kong, a very hot weather warning was issued by the Hong Kong Observatory on Friday morning, with temperatures expected to rise to 35 degrees Celsius on Saturday as the city awaits the arrival of Mangkhut, which is packing sustained winds of 205km/h (127mph) and gusts measured at 255km/h.
At noon, Mangkhut, which is the equivalent of a category 5 Atlantic hurricane, was centred about 570km east-northeast of Manila. It is forecast to move west-northwest at about 25km/h towards the vicinity of Luzon, before coming within 200km of Hong Kong on Sunday evening.
With a massive rain band 900km (560 miles) wide, combined with seasonal monsoon rains, the typhoon could bring heavy to intense rains that could set off landslides and flash floods in the Philippines, forecasters at the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre in Hawaii said. Storm warnings have been raised in 25 provinces across the main northern island of Luzon, restricting sea and air travel.
Schools were closed, and rescuers and troops placed on full alert in the country’s north, with 4 million people in the path of the super typhoon.
As Mangkhut edged closer to Hong Kong, heavy rain, squalls and storm surges were expected to follow and pose a threat to the region.
The Observatory predicted offshore winds on Sunday would reach 11 on the Beaufort scale of 1 to 12. At this level, winds are described to be part of a “storm” with speeds reaching 104km/h to 117km/h.
The Hong Kong government convened a second meeting to coordinate contingency plans among dozens of departments while district offices have contacted representatives of flood-prone areas such as Lei Yu Mun, Tai O and the outlying islands.
Officials will appeal to residents to move to safe or temporary shelters.
Taiwan, which is expected to escape the brunt of the storm’s fury, issued its typhoon warning at sea at 11:30am on Friday, according to its central weather bureau, warning ships at the island’s southeastern sea area, as well as those in Bashi Strait, to stay alert.
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The storm is expected to bring heavy winds and rains to the island’s southern and south-eastern regions, the Central News Agency reported.
In southern China’s Guangdong, wind speeds reached the highest level on the wind force scale at level 17, Nanfang Daily reported. All of the province’s 36,342 registered fishing boats, and 27,000 vessels had returned to Guangdong by Wednesday afternoon, according to the provincial department of marine fisheries.
More than 24,000 construction workers, and 11,000 fishermen were transferred on Thursday afternoon, and hundreds of emergency personnel and vehicle equipment dispatched.
In Hainan, more than 1,300 tonnes of vegetables have been transferred from outside the province to guarantee supplies for up to three days, the Sanya municipal development and reform commission told Hainan’s Hinews outlet. Provincial governor Shen Xiaoming told his officials to prepare for the worst and speed up preparations for Mangkhut, official Hainan Daily reported.
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Meanwhile, Factory owners in Dongguan and Shenzhen told the Post they were on high alert, while a gallery owner in Shenzhen’s Dafen Oil Painting Village, home to thousands of Chinese art wholesalers and producers, said he had been moving his artwork to higher ground in case of flooding.
High-speed rail services have been cancelled between Guangdong and neighbouring Hunan province, as well as between the key cities of Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong, state media reported.
Reservoirs and hydroelectric stations in the region have also been asked to stay on high alert.
The super typhoon is on course to hit the northeastern Cagayan province in the Philippines early on Saturday, and Office of Civil Defence chief Ricardo Jalad told an emergency meeting led by President Rodrigo Duterte about 4.2 million people are vulnerable to the most destructive effects near the typhoon’s 125km-wide eye.
Nearly 48,000 houses in those high-risk areas are made of light materials and vulnerable to Mangkhut’s ferocious winds.
Across the north on Thursday, residents covered glass windows with wooden boards, strengthened houses with rope and braces, and moved fishing boats to safety.
On Guam, where Mangkhut has already made its presence felt, residents dealt with flooded streets, downed trees and widespread power outages. Government agencies were conducting damage assessments and clearing roads, according to the Pacific Daily News.
About 80 per cent of the United States territory was without power, but it was mostly restored by Thursday morning.
Mangkhut, a Thai word for the mangosteen fruit, is the 15th storm this year to batter the Philippines, which is hit by about 20 a year and is considered one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries. Typhoon Haiyan left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, and displaced more than 5 million in the central Philippines in 2013.