Ferocious typhoon slams into Philippines
TUGUEGARAO, PHILIPPINES — Typhoon Mangkhut slammed into the country’s northeastern coast early Saturday, with witnesses saying the storm’s ferocious wind and blinding rain ripped off tin roof sheets and knocked out power at the start of the onslaught.
The typhoon made landfall before dawn in the coastal town of Baggao in Cagayan province on the northern tip of Luzon island, an agricultural region of flood-prone rice plains and mountain provinces often hit by landslides.
More than five million people are at risk from the storm, which the Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center categorizes as a super typhoon with powerful winds and gusts equivalent to a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane.
There were no immediate reports of major damages or casualties in the region, where a massive evacuation from high-risk areas has been underway for the last two days.
Associated Press journalists in a hotel in Cagayan’s capital city of Tuguegarao saw tin roof sheets and other debris hurtle through the air and store signs crash to the ground. Cars shook as gusts pummelled a parking lot.
With a huge rain-cloud band 900 kilometres wide, combined with seasonal monsoon rains, the typhoon could bring intense rain that could set off landslides and flash floods. Storm warnings have been raised in almost all the provinces across the main northern island of Luzon, including the capital, Manila, restricting sea and air travel.
Mangkhut was tracked late Friday about 190 kilometres away in the Pacific with sustained winds of 205 km/h and gusts of up to 255 km/h, forecasters said.
Even if the typhoon weakens slightly after slamming ashore, its winds will remain very destructive, government forecaster Rene Paciente said.
“It can lift cars, you can’t stand, you can’t even crawl against that wind,” Paciente told reporters late Friday in Manila.
In Cagayan’s capital city of Tuguegarao, residents braced for the typhoon’s fury by reinforcing homes and buildings and stocking up on food.
“It was busy earlier in the hardware store and people were buying wood, nails, tin wire, plywood and umbrellas,” said Benjamin Banez, who owns a three-storey hotel where workers were busy hammering up wooden boards to protect glass panels.
A super typhoon wrought heavy damage to Banez’s hotel and the rest of Cagayan in 2016. “We’re praying that there will be less damage this time, although we know that this one will be very strong,” Banez said.
Ninia Grace Abedes abandoned her bamboo hut and took her four children to a school building serving as an emergency shelter. The 33-year-old said the 2016 typhoon blew away their hut, which they abandoned before the storm hit. “If we didn’t, all of us would be dead,” she said.
More than 15,300 people had been moved to safety in northern provinces by Friday afternoon, the Office of Civil Defence said.
Concerns over massive storm surges that could be whipped inland by the typhoon’s winds prompted wardens to move 143 detainees from a jail in Cagayan’s Aparri town to nearby towns, officials said.
The typhoon hit at the start of the rice and corn harvesting season in Cagayan, a major agricultural producer, prompting farmers to scramble to save what they could of their crops, Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said. The threat to agriculture comes as the Philippines tries to cope with rice shortages.