HONG KONG–Typhoon Mangkhut barreled into southern China on Sept. 16, killing two people after lashing the Philippines with strong winds and heavy rain that left at least 64 dead and dozens more feared buried in a landslide.
More than 2.4 million people had been evacuated in southern China’s Guangdong province by Sept. 16 evening to flee the massive typhoon and nearly 50,000 fishing boats were called back to port, state media reported. It threatened to be the strongest typhoon to hit Hong Kong in nearly two decades.
“Prepare for the worst,” Hong Kong Security Minister John Lee Ka-chiu urged residents.
That warning came after Mangkhut’s devastating march through the northern Philippines, where the storm made landfall Sept. 15 on Luzon island with sustained winds of 205 kilometers (127 miles) per hour and gusts of 255 kph (158 mph).
Police Superintendent Pelita Tacio said 34 villagers had died and 36 remained missing in landslides in two villages in Itogon town in the northern Philippine mountain province of Benguet.
Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan told The Associated Press by phone that at the height of the typhoon’s onslaught Sept. 15 afternoon, dozens of people, mostly miners and their families, rushed into an old three-story building in the village of Ucab.
The building—a former mining bunkhouse that had been transformed into a chapel—was obliterated when part of a mountain slope collapsed. Three villagers who managed to escape told authorities what happened.
“They thought they were really safe there,” the mayor said. He expressed sadness that the villagers, many of them poor, had few options to survive in a region where big corporations have profited immensely from gold mines.
Rescuers were scrambling to pull out the body of a victim from the mound of mud and rocks in Ucab before Tacio, the police official, left the area Sept. 16.
“I could hear villagers wailing in their homes near the site of the accident,” Tacio said.
The tragedy came as Florence, another major storm, unleashed catastrophic flooding across the Carolinas in the United States, where more than 30 inches of rain since Sept. 14 threatened a deluge of historic proportions as the storm slowly crawled inland from the coast. Muddy river waters swamped entire communities and the coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina, was cut off by the flood waters.
In China, meanwhile, Mangkhut continued its destructive path, with Hong Kong bracing for a storm that could be the strongest to hit the city since Typhoon York in 1999.
The storm shattered glass windows on commercial skyscrapers in Hong Kong, sending sheets of paper pouring out of the buildings, fluttering and spiraling as they headed for the debris-strewn ground, according to several videos posted on social media.
Mangkhut also felled trees, tore bamboo scaffolding off buildings under construction and flooded some areas of Hong Kong with waist-high waters, according to the South China Morning Post.
— Jen Zhu (@jenzhuscott) September 16, 2018
The paper said the heavy rains brought storm surges of 3 meters (10 feet) around Hong Kong.
The storm made landfall in the Guangdong city of Taishan at 5 p.m., packing wind speeds of 162 kilometers (100 miles) per hour. State television broadcaster CGTN reported that surging waves flooded a seaside hotel in the city of Shenzhen.
In Macau, next door to Hong Kong, casinos were ordered to close from 11 p.m. Sept. 15 , the first time such action was taken in the city, the South China Morning Post reported. In the city’s inner harbor district, the water level reached 1.5 meters (5 feet) on Sunday and was expected to rise further. The area was one of the most affected by floods from Typhoon Hato, which left 10 people dead last year.
Authorities in southern China issued a red alert, the most severe warning, as the national meteorological center said the densely populated region would face a “severe test caused by wind and rain” and urged officials to prepare for possible disasters.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific said all of its flights would be canceled between 2:30 a.m. Sept. 16 and 4 a.m. Sept. 17. The city of Shenzhen also canceled all flights between Sept. 16 and early Sept. 17 morning. Hainan Airlines canceled 234 flights in the cities of Haikou, Sanya, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai scheduled over the weekend.
All high-speed and some normal rail services in Guangdong and Hainan provinces were also halted, the China Railway Guangzhou Group Co. said.
In the Philippines, rescuers for the Itogon landslide were hampered by rain and mud. The search and rescue operation was suspended at nightfall and was to resume at daybreak Monday, said Palangdan, the mayor. Police and their vehicles could not immediately reach the landslide-hit area because the ground was unstable and soaked from the heavy rains, regional police chief Rolando Nana told the ABS-CBN TV network.
Overall, at least 64 people have died in typhoon-related incidents in the northern Philippines, mostly from landslides and collapsed houses, according to the national police. Forty-five other people were missing and 33 were injured in the storm.
The hardest-hit area was Benguet province, where 38 people died, mostly in the two landslides in Itogon, and 37 are missing, the police said.
Still, the Philippines appeared to have been spared the high number of casualties many had feared. In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, flattened villages and displaced more than 5 million in the central Philippines. A massive evacuation of about 87,000 people from high-risk areas helped lessen potential casualties, officials said.
The typhoon struck at the start of the rice and corn harvesting season in the Philippines’ northern breadbasket, prompting farmers to scramble to save what they could of their crops, Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said.
By Vincent Yu and Jim Gomez