MANILA • A super typhoon roared towards the Philippines yesterday, prompting thousands to evacuate ahead of its heavy rains and fierce winds that are set to strike at the weekend before moving on to China and Vietnam.
Typhoon Mangkhut, which has already blasted through the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, was speeding across the Pacific with winds that can gust as high as 255kmh.
The authorities said some 10 million people in the Philippines are in the storm's path, not including millions more in heavily-populated coastal China.
Thousands have started fleeing the seaside areas of the northern tip of the main Philippine island of Luzon, where the storm is expected to make landfall early tomorrow.
Ms Delaila Pasion told reporters she and her family fled to escape the storm because they were frightened of its power. "They say it (the typhoon) is so strong. We were too scared to remain," she said.
"During the previous monsoon rains, half of our house was destroyed so I wanted to take my grandchildren to safety," she said.
Flooding, landslides and wind damage from the coming storm were top concerns as the authorities prepared equipment for rescue and relief operations.
Medical and emergency response teams were on standby while more than 1.7 billion pesos (S$43 million) of relief goods had been prepared.
President Rodrigo Duterte and defence, interior and energy chiefs were yesterday given a briefing on emergency plans for the storm.
Schools were shuttered and some farmers took to their fields to start early harvest of corn and rice that could be ruined by flooding.
An average of 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines yearly, killing hundreds of people and leaving millions in near-perpetual poverty.
The country's deadliest storm on record is Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,350 people dead or missing across the central Philippines in November 2013.
The state weather service said Mangkhut - named after the Thai word for mangosteen - will be the strongest typhoon so far this year, with winds of 205kmh.
The typhoon, known locally as Ompong, is expected to boost the intensity of seasonal monsoon rains that have already caused widespread flooding in central Luzon, a mainly farming region north of the capital Manila.
Poor communities reliant on fishing are among the most vulnerable to fierce typhoon winds and the storm surge that pounds the coast.
"It will bring destruction. They are the ones greatly affected. Even moderate winds can topple their houses," regional civil defence official Dante Balao told AFP.
Hong Kong is also in Mangkhut's sights, and preparations in the city were already under way yesterday, though the storm was not expected to hit until Sunday.
Social media users and radio commentators in Hong Kong said they were stocking up on food and other basic supplies.
The Hong Kong Observatory warned residents to prepare for the storm, saying it posed a "considerable threat".
The state weather service in the Philippines said heavy rain and strong winds were expected from today over the north and centre of Luzon, along with rough seas on the coasts.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it expects "substantial damage" on the Philippine path of Mangkhut.
Storm surges of up to 7m are expected to hit coastal areas, it said, while heavy rains could trigger landslides and flash floods.
The civil defence office in Manila said towns and cities on Mangkhut's path are preparing government buildings as evacuation centres, stockpiling food and other emergency rations.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS