In the path of na­ture’s fury

The Philip­pines braces for the year’s most pow­er­ful storm as Florence threat­ens US states with hur­ri­cane-force winds and flood­ing

Weekend Herald - - World - AP, news.com.au

An “ex­tremely dan­ger­ous” su­per typhoon pre­dicted to be the one of the strong­est sys­tems on record was last night tear­ing to­wards Hong Kong and the Philip­pines with up to 43 mil­lion peo­ple in the fir­ing line.

At the same time, au­thor­i­ties in the United States warned that while Hur­ri­cane Florence had been down­graded to a Cat­e­gory 1 storm, it was still likely to trig­ger lifethreat­en­ing floods. Florence had last night al­ready in­un­dated coastal ar­eas of North and South Carolina with ocean wa­ter and left tens of thou­sands with­out power. Fore­cast­ers said con­di­tions would only worsen as the hulk­ing storm moved in­land.

States of emer­gency have al­ready been de­clared in the Caroli­nas, Ge­or­gia, Vir­ginia, Mary­land and the Dis­trict of Columbia.

Bureau of Me­te­o­rol­ogy Aus­tralia trop­i­cal cli­ma­tol­o­gist Greg Brown­ing said that Typhoon Mangkhut was equiv­a­lent to a Cat­e­gory 5 se­vere trop­i­cal cy­clone and had max­i­mum sus­tained winds of 205km/h and gusts of up to 285km/h. It was “sig­nif­i­cantly stronger” than Hur­ri­cane Florence, he said, which be­gan flood­ing the Caroli­nas yes­ter­day as the mas­sive, slow­mov­ing storm crept to­ward the coast­line, threat­en­ing mil­lions of peo­ple in its path with record rain­fall and pun­ish­ing surf.

Brown­ing said Mangkhut was “rel­a­tively rare at the top of the se­vere scale”. “It’s ex­tremely dan­ger­ous as it’s a very large sys­tem with very strong winds and a po­ten­tial storm surge over a large dis­tance.

“There will be very heavy rain­fall as­so­ci­ated with it which has po­ten­tial to cause wide­spread da­m­age.”

More than 4 mil­lion peo­ple are at risk from the storm and Philip­pine au­thor­i­ties were yes­ter­day evac­u­at­ing thou­sands of peo­ple from its path, clos­ing schools, ready­ing bull­doz­ers for land­slides and plac­ing res­cuers and troops on full alert in the coun­try’s north.

Mangkhut was ini­tially ex­pected to hit the north­ern tip of Ca­gayan prov­ince to­mor­row, but it’s now likely to make land­fall fur­ther south and closer to Is­abela prov­ince. Philip­pine state fore­caster Chris Perez said it was likely to then cut across the north­ern bread­bas­ket. He said the change wouldn’t make much dif­fer­ence be­cause of the typhoon’s mas­sive size.

A huge rain­cloud band 900km wide, com­bined with sea­sonal mon­soon rains, means the typhoon will bring heavy to in­tense rains that could set off land­slides and flash floods. Warn­ings have been raised in

25 provinces across the main north­ern is­land of Lu­zon, re­strict­ing sea and air travel.

Brown­ing said Mangkhut was the most pow­er­ful storm sys­tem to have de­vel­oped on Earth this year but that it wasn’t the strong­est since records be­gan in 1946, as has been re­ported. Typhoon Haiyan — which killed more than 6000 peo­ple when it lashed the Philip­pines with max­i­mum sus­tained winds of 230km/h and gusts of

325km/h in 2013 — holds that record. After the Philip­pines, the Hong Kong Ob­ser­va­tory pre­dicts Mangkhut will plough into the Chi­nese main­land on Mon­day south of Hong Kong and north of the is­land prov­ince of Hainan. Though it will weaken from a su­per typhoon to a se­vere typhoon, it will still be pack­ing sus­tained winds of 175km/h.

On the Chi­nese main­land, the three south­ern provinces of Guang­dong, Guangxi and Hainan are co-or­di­nat­ing prepa­ra­tions, in­clud­ing sus­pend­ing trans­port and mov­ing peo­ple to shel­ter in­land, the na­tional me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal agency re­ported.

Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte asked Cab­i­net of­fi­cials from the north to help over­see dis­as­ter­re­sponse work if needed, and told re­porters it was too early to con­sider seek­ing for­eign aid. “It would de­pend on the severity of the cri­sis,” Duterte said. “If it flat­tens every­thing, maybe we need to have some help.”

Florence, mean­while, has been down­graded from its peak as a Cat­e­gory 4 storm — which causes “cat­a­strophic da­m­age” — to a Cat­e­gory 1.

How­ever, as hur­ri­cane-force winds be­gan whip­ping North Carolina, fed­eral emer­gency man­age­ment of­fi­cials warned that the hur­ri­cane re­mained a “very dan­ger­ous storm” ca­pa­ble of wreak­ing havoc along a wide swathe of the coast.

“Just be­cause the wind speed came down . . . please do not let your guard down,” said Brock Long, the ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency (FEMA).

Warn­ing of storm surges of up to 3.6m, he urged res­i­dents to take the storm se­ri­ously re­gard­less of the cat­e­gory, say­ing “this is all about the wa­ter, any­way”.

Scream­ing winds yes­ter­day bent trees to­ward and rain flew side­ways as Florence’s lead­ing edge whipped the Carolina coast, be­gin­ning an on­slaught that could last for days, leav­ing a wide area un­der wa­ter from both heavy down­pours and ris­ing seas.

“The worst of the storm is not yet here but th­ese are early warn­ings of the days to come,” said North Carolina Gover­nor Roy Cooper. “Sur­viv­ing this storm will be a test of en­durance, team­work, com­mon sense and pa­tience.”

About 10 mil­lion peo­ple could be af­fected by the storm and more than 1 mil­lion had been or­dered to evac­u­ate the coasts of the Caroli­nas and Vir­ginia.

At least 12,000 peo­ple had taken refuge in 126 emer­gency shel­ters, Cooper said, with more fa­cil­i­ties be­ing opened.

The Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­tre warned that the threat of tor­na­does was in­creas­ing as Florence neared shore and South Carolina Gover­nor Henry McMaster said the heavy rains could trig­ger land­slides in the western part of his state.

Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­tre di­rec­tor Ken Gra­ham said on Face­book that the storm surges could push in as far as 3km.

Heavy rains were fore­cast to ex­tend into the Ap­palachian Moun­tains, af­fect­ing parts of Alabama, Ten­nessee, Ken­tucky and West Vir­ginia.

Of­fi­cials said some 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple in the Caroli­nas and Vir­ginia were warned to evac­u­ate, but it’s un­clear how many did. Some res­i­dents re­jected the calls.

Near the beach in Wilm­ing­ton, North Carolina, a Waf­fle House restau­rant, part of a chain with a rep­u­ta­tion for stay­ing open dur­ing dis­as­ters, had no plans to close, even if power was lost, and there were lines to get in last night.

Will Ep­per­son, a 36-year-old golf course as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent, said he and his wife had planned to ride out the storm at their home in Hamp­stead, North Carolina, but then re­con­sid­ered. In­stead, they drove

240km in­land to his mother’s house in Durham. “I’ve never been one to leave for a storm but this one kind of had me spooked,” Ep­per­son said.

Pho­tos / AP

Au­thor­i­ties in the Philip­pines yes­ter­day evac­u­ated thou­sands of peo­ple while keep­ing a close eye on Mangkhut’s progress.

Hur­ri­cane Florence whipped up large waves and caused flood­ing in coastal ar­eas in North Carolina ahead of mak­ing land­fall.

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