Monster storm Mangkhut ripped through Hong Kong, Macau and cities dotted around the coastline of southern China as it swept across the region.
During the weekend, what was a super typhoon barreled into the Philippines, causing extensive damage and killing at least 59 people, many of them in landslides, and officials fear the death toll could rise significantly.
The world’s biggest storm this year then felled trees and sent skyscrapers swaying in Hong Kong, injuring more than 200 people there before making landfall on the coast of Jiangmen city, in southern China’s Guangdong province, AFP reported.
Provincial officials said they evacuated 2.37 million people and ordered tens of thousands of fishing boats back to port before the arrival of what Chinese media have dubbed the “King of Storms.” Two people were killed in Guangdong late Sunday, state media reported.
Already the United Nations Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System is predicting that 43.4 million people could be affected before the typhoon dissipates.
“[Mangkhut is] relatively rare at the top of the severe scale,” Greg Browning, a tropical climatologist at the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia, said. “It’s extremely dangerous as it’s a very large system with very strong winds and a potential storm surge over a large distance.”
Bloomberg reported that Hong Kong and Southern China could suffer economic losses of up to $50 billion and the Philippines may be hit with $16 billion to $20 billion in losses. Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler for Enki Research, said the impact on the Philippines could amount to between 5% to 6% of its gross domestic product.
On Monday, Hong Kong schools will be closed as the massive clean-up operation begins. Damage estimates are still unclear.
The storm warning was lowered in Hong Kong early Monday morning to a No. 3 from a No. 8 after peaking at the maximum No. 10 typhoon signal on Sunday. Strong wind and heavy rains caused widespread damage to buildings with many reports of shattered windows.
Massive waves also lashed the coastline as the typhoon, which packed winds of up to 175km/h, or 108 miles per hour, hit the Special Administrative Region or SAR.
Major airlines canceled flights and rail links were suspended as local transport ground to a halt.
“We expect huge waves and surge on the sea … and severe flooding in low-lying areas,” Lee Suk-ming, a senior science officer at the Hong Kong Observatory, said, adding that waves could be as high as 14 meters.
“Members of the public should stay in a safe place and not go outside.”
Despite being downgraded from a super to a severe typhoon, Mangkhut could turn out to be the most intense storm to hit the city, which is virtually on lockdown.
Hong Kong International Airport announced acute travel disruptions with major carriers Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon and Hong Kong Airlines canceling all 543 flights scheduled for Sunday, which affected about 96,000 travelers, the South China Morning Post revealed.
So far, nearly 900 flights have been delayed or canceled, while rail links have been badly hit, including the Airport Express.
In low-lying areas such as Lei Yue Mun and Tai O, “extensive flooding” has caused problems, according to reports on social media.
“We have deployed staff to help residents take precautions while appealing to those in the [high-risk] areas to move to temporary shelters,” the Civil Aid Service said.
The outer edge of the storm has engulfed parts of the Pearl River Delta, which is home to 120 million people, the Hong Kong Observatory later confirmed.
More than 50,000 fishermen and nearly 11,000 vessels were called back to port in Fujian province as the superstorm approached China’s southern coastline.
Work has been suspended at more than 1,600 construction sites, while 128 tourist spots have been closed in Fujian, according to local authorities.
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“Southern regions including the provinces of Guangdong, Fujian and Hainan will be hit by gales and storms on Sunday and Monday,” the National Meteorological Center told the official Xinhua news agency.
In Guangdong province, two nuclear power plants were “in combat readiness” after the Meteorological Center announced that a “red alert was in force,” which is the highest level.
Nearby Macau even shut down its casinos for the first time in the island’s history. Extensive flooding around the harbor area has since been reported.
“The suspension of gaming operations is for the safety of casino employees, visitors to the city and residents,” the local government said in a statement.