The Philippines raised its storm alert last night and warned of major destruction, hours before super typhoon Mangkhut was due to make landfall with fierce winds and drenching rains.
Thousands have already fled their homes on the Philippines’ northern coastal tip ahead of the arrival early today of what forecasters have called the strongest typhoon yet this year.
Businesses and residents on Luzon island, which is home to millions, were boarding up windows and tying down roofs that could be sheared off by sustained winds of 205kmh.
By last night, strong winds had already downed trees in Tuguegarao, a city in the north of Luzon, where almost all businesses had been shuttered and police were patrolling otherwise quiet streets.
The Philippines state weather service raised a “signal four” alert, the second-highest storm warning for winds of up to 220kmh, for six provinces in Luzon’s north.
They are squarely in the path of the massive storm, which is about 900km wide, as it roars west across the Pacific.
“It is important for our countrymen to know that we have raised signal four,” forecaster Loriedin de la Cruz said during a televised safety briefing.
A signal four alert was issued for Super Typhoon Haiyan, which is the country’s deadliest on record. It left more than 7,350 people dead or missing across the central Philippines in November 2013.
Heavy rains and gusts were already hitting the far northeastern tip of Luzon yesterday evening from the storm that forecasters said is the most powerful of 2018.
“Among all the typhoons this year, this one (Mangkhut) is the strongest,” Japan Meteorological Agency forecaster Hiroshi Ishihara told AFP.
“This is a violent typhoon. It has the strongest sustained wind (among the typhoons of this year)”, he added.
Farmers in the region, which produces a significant portion of the Philippines’ corn and rice, were rushing to bring in crops that could be destroyed by flooding.
At least four million people are directly in Mangkhut’s path, which is predicted to move on to China’s heavily populated southern coast this weekend.
“They (authorities) said this typhoon is twice as strong as the last typhoon, that’s why we are terrified,” Myrna Parallag (53) said after fleeing her home in the northern Philippines.
“We learned our lesson last time. The water reached our roof,” she said, referring to when her family rode out a typhoon at home in 2016.
An average of 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year, killing hundreds of people and leaving millions in near-perpetual poverty. Poor communities reliant on fishing are some of the most vulnerable.