HONG KONG/MANILA (Reuters) – A super typhoon swirled past Hong Kong on Sunday, barreling towards the Chinese coast and gaining strength over the South China Sea after it wreaked havoc in the Philippines and killed at least 29 people.
Packing gale force winds of more than 200 kph (125 mph), tropical cyclone Mangkhut is considered the strongest to hit the region this year, equivalent to a maximum Category 5 “intense hurricane” in the Atlantic.
Mangkhut, the Thai name for Southeast Asia’s mangosteen fruit, was expected to skirt 100 km (62 miles) south of Hong Kong and veer west towards the coast of China’s southern Guangdong province, and the gaming center of Macau.
Hong Kong raised its highest No. 10 typhoon signal at mid-morning as ferocious winds uprooted trees and smashed windows in office and residential buildings, some of which swayed in the gusts, residents said.
“It swayed for quite a long time, at least two hours. It made me feel so dizzy,” said Elaine Wong, who lives in a high-rise tower in Kowloon.
Water levels surged 3.5 m (12 ft) in some places, waves swamped roads and washed up live fish, washing into some residential blocks and a mall in an eastern district.
“It’s the worst I’ve seen,” resident Martin Wong told Reuters. “I’ve not seen the roads flood like this, (and) the windows shake like this, before.”
The plans of tens of thousands of travelers were disrupted by flight cancellations at Hong Kong’s international airport, a major regional hub. Airlines such as flagship carrier Cathay Pacific canceled many flights last week.
Philippine authorities said a baby and a toddler were among the 29 dead, most of them in landslides in mountainous areas that left at least 13 missing.
“The landslides happened as some residents returned to their homes after the typhoon,” disaster response coordinator Francis Tolentino told DZMM Radio, adding that most of the 5.7 million people affected had made advance preparations.
“It was not so severe as we expected it to be because earlier it was noted it would also be strong,” said President Rodrigo Duterte, following an aerial survey of some affected areas.
In Macau, which halted casino gambling late on Saturday and put China’s People’s Liberation Army on standby for disaster relief help, some streets were flooded.
“The suspension is for the safety of casino employees, visitors to the city, and residents,” said authorities in the world’s largest gambling hub, who faced criticism last year after a typhoon that killed nine and caused severe damage.
China has ordered thousands of boats to return to harbor, and evacuated thousands of offshore oil platform workers, the state news agency, Xinhua, said.
(Graphic: Typhoon Mangkhut – tmsnrt.rs/2oZmnIS)
“KING OF STORMS”
The typhoon, dubbed the “King of Storms” by Chinese media, is expected to make landfall in Guangdong between the cities of Taishan and Yangjiang as early as 5 p.m., weather officials say.
Ports, oil refineries and industrial plants in the area have been shut. Power to some areas could also be reduced as a precaution, say grid operators.
The storm has fueled concern about sugar production in Guangdong, which accounts for a tenth of national output, at about 1 million tonnes. China sugar futures rose last week on fears for the cane crop.
The airport in the boomtown of Shenzhen has been shut since midnight, and will be closed until 8:00 a.m. (2400 GMT) on Monday. Flights have been canceled in Guangzhou and the neighboring island province of Hainan.
High winds and swells have also hit Fujian province north of Guangdong, shutting ports, suspending ferry services and cancelling more than 100 flights. Waves as high as 7.3 m (24 ft)were sighted in the Taiwan Strait, Xinhua said.
Mangkhut’s northwesterly track will bring heavy rain and winds to the autonomous region of Guangxi early on Monday, before it weakens into a tropical depression to reach southwestern Yunnan next day.
Reporting by James Pomfret, Anne Marie Roantree and Farah Master; Additional reporting by Julia Fioretti and Bobby Yip in HONG KONG, Manolo Serapio and Martin Petty in MANILA, and Ryan Woo and Meng Meng in BEIJING; Editing by Clarence Fernandez