Typhoon Mangkhut, which has already blasted through the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, is speeding across the Pacific Ocean with winds that can gust as high as 255 kilometres per hour.
Authorities said some 10 million people in the Philippines are in the storm’s path, not including millions more in heavily populated coastal China.
The Philippine weather bureau warned the storm surge brought about by strong winds could be as high as six metres – the equivalent to a two-storey building – endangering many coastal towns and lives.
It said Mangkhut, also known in the Philippines as Typhoon Ompong, will be the strongest typhoon so far this year.
Thousands began evacuating seaside areas of the northern tip of the main Philippine island of Luzon, where the storm is expected to make landfall early Saturday.
In some areas, local authorities will carry out forced evacuations.
“We are really frightened. They say it is so strong,” said Delaila Pasion who had fled her home. “We were too scared to remain.”
Flooding, landslides, and wind damage from the super typhoon were top concerns as authorities prepared equipment and personnel for rescue and relief operations.
“During the previous monsoon rains, half of our house was destroyed so I wanted to take my grandchildren to safety,” Pasion told journalists.
Schools were shuttered and some farmers took to their fields to start the early harvest of corn and rice that could be ruined by flooding.
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.
The country’s deadliest on record was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 7,350 people across the central Philippines in November 2013.
The typhoon is expected to boost the intensity of seasonal monsoon rains that have already caused widespread flooding in central Luzon, a mainly farming region north of the capital Manila.
Poor communities reliant on fishing are some of the most vulnerable to fierce typhoon winds and the storm surge that pounds the coast.
“It will bring destruction. They are the ones greatly affected. Even moderate winds can topple their houses,” regional civil defence official Dante Balao told the AFP news agency.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it expects “substantial damage” in the Philippines.
Heavy rains could trigger landslides and flash floods, it said.
Authorities readied bulldozers for landslides and placed rescuers and soldiers on full alert in the country’s north.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he’ll consider seeking assistance from the international community over Typhoon Mangkhut if it “flattens everything”.
Speaking at a news conference, Duterte said there is no need yet to seek foreign aid, and it would “depend on the severity of the crisis”.
Hong Kong is also in Mangkhut’s sights and preparations there were already under way Thursday, though the storm was not expected to hit until Sunday.
Social media users and radio commentators in Hong Kong said they were stocking up on food and supplies.
The Hong Kong Observatory warned residents to prepare for the typhoon saying it posed a “considerable threat”.