Philippines authorities evacuated more areas on Friday and warned an estimated 5.2 million people in the path of super typhoon Mangkhut to stay indoors, as the country braced for heavy rain and storm.
The powerful typhoon, a massive storm about 900 kilometers wide, is expected to barrel through the northernmost tip of the Philippines early on Saturday, carrying 205 kph wind speeds, and gusts of up to 255 kph.
Mangkhut has already blasted through the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam.
More than 9,000 people have been moved to temporary shelters as Mangkhut, locally known as Ompong, makes its way towards the rice- and corn-producing provinces of Cagayan and Isabela where it is forecast to make landfall at dawn on Saturday.
Schools and government offices shut in more than 600 places, while military personnel, medical and emergency response teams have been put on standby.
The coastguard said about 5,000 passengers were stranded at several ports by the impending storm, which will head on towards southern China and Vietnam.
“Among all the typhoons this year, this one is the strongest,” Hiroshi Ishihara, a meteorologist with the Japan Meteorological Agency, told AFP news agency.
“This is a violent typhoon. It has the strongest sustained wind (among the typhoons of this year)”, he added.
“My appeal is that we need to heed the advice of the authorities. Stay indoors,” said presidential adviser Francis Tolentino, the government’s main coordinator for disaster response.
The storm picked up speed slightly on Friday and was about 450 km east of the Philippines at noon. Footage posted on social media by Cagayan residents showed trees being whipped by fierce winds under dark grey skies as rain lashed down on buildings.
The capital, Manila, and more than three dozen northern and central provinces have been placed under storm warning signals.
In the Philippines, the strongest effect could be felt in 10 provinces now under storm signal 3, a notch below the highest level.
“The concerns here are landslides and infrastructure being washed away,” said Junie Cua, governor of Quirino province on the main island of Luzon.
“We have made preparations for those eventualities by pre-positioning our relief goods and having our equipment on standby.”
Authorities are taking extra precautions as they draw comparisons with Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated central areas of the archipelago in 2013, and killed 6,300 people.
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 on 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”.