Typhoon Mangkhut (Ompong) barrels closer to north Philippines with over 5 million people at risk from the storm
Tuguegarao — Typhoon Mangkhut retained its ferocious strength and shifted slightly toward more densely populated coastal provinces on Friday as it barreled closer to the northeastern Philippines, where a massive evacuation was underway.
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.
It was initially expected to hit the northern tip of Cagayan province early Saturday, but it is now likely to make landfall farther south and closer to Isabela province, and then cut across the northern breadbasket, Philippine state forecaster Chris Perez said. The change isn’t likely to markedly change its impact because of the typhoon’s massive size, he said.
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-story 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.
A huge raincloud band 900 kilometers (560 miles) wide, combined with seasonal monsoon rains, means the typhoon will bring heavy to 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.
The typhoon is approaching at the start of the rice and corn harvesting season in Cagayan, a major agricultural producer, and farmers were scrambling 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.
Mangkhut was tracked at mid-afternoon on Friday about 470 kilometers (290 miles) away in the Pacific with sustained winds of 205 kilometers (127 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 255 kph (158 mph), forecasters said.
After the Philippines, the Hong Kong Observatory predicts Mangkhut will plow into the Chinese mainland early Monday south of Hong Kong and north of the island province of Hainan. Though it is likely to weaken from a super typhoon to a severe typhoon, it will still be packing sustained winds of 175 kph (109 mph), it said.
The observatory warned of rough seas and frequent heavy squalls, urging residents of the densely populated financial hub to “take suitable precautions and pay close attention to the latest information” on the storm.