Biggest typhoon in 25 years makes landfall in Philippines
PHILIPPINE forecasters say Typhoon Mangkhut has slammed into the country's northeastern coast.
Witnesses say the storm's ferocious winds and blinding rain ripped off tin roof sheets and knocked down power at the start of the onslaught.
Forecasters said early on Saturday that the typhoon made landfall in the coastal town of Baggao in Cagayan province nearly two hours after midnight in the northern tip of the main Luzon island.
It is an agricultural region of flood- prone rice plains and mountain provinces often hit by landslides.
More than five million people are at risk from the storm, which the Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center categorises as a super typhoon with powerful winds and gusts equivalent to a category 5 Atlantic hurricane.
There were no immediate reports of major damages or casualties in the region, where a massive evacuation from high-risk areas has been under way for the last two days.
A day earlier, Philippine authorities were evacuating thousands of people from the path of the most powerful typhoon this year, closing schools, readying bulldozers for landslides and placing rescuers and troops on full alert in the country's north.
With a huge raincloud band 900km wide, combined with seasonal monsoon rains, the typhoon could 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.
Mangkhut was tracked late on Friday in the Pacific with sustained winds of 200km/h and gusts of up to 250km/h, forecasters said.
They said the fast-moving typhoon has gained speed as it moves northwestward at 30km/h.
Even if the typhoon weakens slightly after slamming ashore, its winds will remain very destructive, government forecaster Rene Paciente said. "It can lift cars, you can't stand, you can't even crawl against that wind," Paciente told reporters late on Friday in Manila.
More than 15,000 people had been evacuated in northern provinces by Friday afternoon, the Office of Civil Defence said.
Concerns over massive storm surges that could be whipped inland by the typhoon's winds prompted wardens to relocate 143 detainees from a jail in Cagayan's Aparri town, officials said.
The typhoon hit at the start of the rice and corn harvesting season in Cagayan, a major agricultural producer, prompting farmers to scramble to save what they could of their crops, Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba said.
The threat to agriculture comes as the Philippines tries to cope with rice shortages.
After the Philippines, the Hong Kong Observatory predicts Mangkhut will plough into the Chinese mainland early on 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 175km/h, 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. Philippine forecasters said the shifting typhoon could possibly blow towards Vietnam after it exits late on Saturday or early on Sunday.