Super Typhoon Mangkhut: Hong Kong ramps up preparations, with clearer picture of storm’s direction possible by Friday
Storm hurtles towards Philippines, where about 10 million people were estimated living in its path
Hong Kong will have a clearer idea by Friday at the earliest whether it will face the full force of Super Typhoon Mangkhut this weekend.
As of Thursday night, forecasters in the city and around the region were watching the storm’s every change of direction for signs of the impact it might have. For Hong Kong, much depended on how Mangkhut made its way across the Philippines and its most populous island, Luzon.
Equivalent to a category 5 Atlantic hurricane – the highest on a five-tier wind scale for tropical cyclones – Mangkhut was hurtling towards the northern Philippines on Thursday night, looming about 850km (528 miles) from its capital by 8pm.
Packing winds of 240km/h (149mph), it was forecast to smash through Luzon as early as Saturday morning, even affecting Manila, before heading to China’s densely populated Guangdong province and skirting by Hong Kong.
But with the storm changing direction slightly to head west-northwest, the Hong Kong Observatory suggested it would come within about 200km (124 miles) of the city on Sunday evening, a wider berth than Wednesday’s forecast of 80km (50 miles).
“There are still a lot of uncertainties. We will be able to get a more accurate forecast after it passes Luzon,” the Observatory’s senior scientific officer, Olivia Lee Shuk-ming, said.
Clarence Fong Chi-kong, a meteorologist at the Macau-based ESCAP/WMO Typhoon Committee, said on Thursday afternoon that Mangkhut appeared to be taking “a more westerly path than forecast and it may hit Luzon and weaken”.
“While a storm is crossing Luzon, it is possible that it will turn more westerly … some storms will recover from the deflection after entering the South China Sea, but some may not,” he said.
Lee warned Hongkongers to expect “significant deterioration” in weather on Sunday, with gusty winds and more than 100mm of rain.
“Besides the winds, the extensive circulation of Mangkhut will start bringing frequent heavy rain to Hong Kong on Sunday,” she said.
The storm is named after the Thai word for the mangosteen fruit. Preparations for its arrival in Hong Kong were in full swing on Thursday in parts of the city hardest hit by Super Typhoon Hato last year, for which the Observatory raised the No 10 signal, the highest on its storm warning system.
Residents in Lei Yue Mun, Heng Fa Chuen on the southeastern coast of Hong Kong and the Tai O fishing village on Lantau Island said they were boarding up windows, building flood defences and stocking up on essentials. Some shoppers complained the prices of fruit, vegetables and meat had already increased.
The government said it would convene another interdepartmental meeting on Friday to update contingency plans based on the typhoon’s path. The Hospital Authority said it had ensured that enough doctors and nurses would be on duty at its 43 public hospitals.
Weather forecasters in the city held their first-ever joint video conference with their counterparts on mainland China and Macau to discuss preparations.
The Home Affairs Department was to activate an emergency hotline – on 2835 1473 – to handle public inquiries about the storm. It planned to open 48 temporary shelters, run by district offices for people in need, if and when the No 3 signal was issued.
Authorities in Luzon issued a typhoon signal 1 – the lowest on its five-tier system – warning of gusty winds. Schools were shuttered and tens of thousands of people along the coast were evacuated to inland shelters, as storm surges of up to 7 metres were expected.
In Central Luzon, considered the “rice granary of the Philippines”, some farmers began harvesting rice and corn early, to save their crops.
About 10 million people in the Philippines were estimated to be living in the storm’s path. The Manila civil defence office said towns and cities were stockpiling food and other emergency rations.
China’s National Meteorological Centre said late on Thursday it expected Mangkhut to hit western Guangdong or eastern Hainan province late on Sunday or early on Monday. The maximum sustained wind speed near its centre could reach 186km/h, it said.
Factory owners in Dongguan and Shenzhen told the South China Morning Post they were on high alert, while a gallery owner in Shenzhen’s Dafen Oil Painting Village – home to thousands of Chinese art wholesalers and producers – said he had been moving his artworks to higher ground in case of flooding.
High-speed rail services were cancelled between Guangdong and neighbouring Hunan province, state media reported.
Reservoirs and hydroelectric stations in the region had been asked to stay on high alert.
People in Taiwan could breathe a little easier. With a strong ridge of high pressure forcing Mangkhut to change course on Thursday, experts said it might not hit the island directly, but said residents in the eastern and southern parts of the island should take precautions against torrential rain.
Mangkhut had already left a trail of debris in Guam and other parts of the Marianas earlier this week, leaving about 300 people homeless, causing widespread power outages, toppling trees and power lines.
It will be the second typhoon to threaten Hong Kong this week, after Tropical Storm Barijat. But Barijat did not bring any serious disruption and the Observatory cancelled all warning signals at 8am on Thursday, when Barijat made landfall in Guangdong province.
The Observatory said it would consider issuing the No 1 warning on Friday evening.
By Ng Kang-chung, Ernest Kao, Laurie Chen, Michelle Wong, Elizabeth Cheung, Clifford Lo, Lawrence Chung in Taipei, Xinhua, Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Rappler