At least 25 people have died as Super Typhoon Mangkhut swept through the Philippines, and the death toll could go higher.
Of the 25 deaths, six people were reportedly buried by landslides, a girl drowned and a security guard was crushed by a falling wall.
“As we go forward, this number will go higher,” Ricardo Jalad, head of the Philippines’ national civil defence office, told reporters about the biggest storm of the year in the region.
The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), a U.S. Department of Defense agency responsible for issuing tropical cyclone warnings for the Pacific and Indian Oceans, said the typhoon will head towards southern China and make landfall early Monday.
As the powerful storm left the Southeast Asian archipelago and barrelled towards densely populated Hong Kong, Philippine authorities began sending search teams to remote areas hit by communication and power outages, AFP reported Sunday.
In the northern town of Baggao, the storm had collapsed houses, torn off roofs and downed power lines. Shell-shocked villagers could be seen picking through the debris from their homes.
But the full extent of the storm’s destruction was only beginning to be known, with reports of dozens of rain-soaked hillsides collapsing, torrents of out-of-control floodwaters and people being rescued from inundated homes.
More than 105,000 people fled their homes in the largely rural agricultural region, which is one of the nation’s top producers of corn and rice.
Mangkhut was packing sustained winds of 145 kilometers (90 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 180 km/h early Sunday as it hurtled across the sea towards China’s heavily populated southern coast.
In addition to the 25 killed in the Philippines, a woman was swept out to sea in Taiwan.
“Among all the typhoons this year, this one (Mangkhut) is the strongest,” Japan Meteorological Agency official Hiroshi Ishihara told AFP on Friday.
“This is a violent typhoon. It has the strongest sustained wind (among the typhoons of this year).”
As the storm is set to hit China’s southern coast on Sunday, Cathay Pacific airlines warned travelers that it expected more than 400 flight cancellations over the next three days.
At least six flights between Vietnam and Hong Kong have already been canceled.
National carrier Vietnam Airlines has cancelled four roundtrip flights from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to Hong Kong on Sunday and one HCMC-Hong Kong flight on Monday.
Jetstar Pacific also cancelled two Hanoi-Hong Kong roundtrip flights on Sunday.
The typhoon is forecast to directly impact the northern region of Vietnam, causing heavy rains until next week, posing flashflood and landslide threats in the northern uplands and north central region.
Philippine metereologist Ariel Rojas said that even though the storm had passed the Philippines, it would continue to bring heavy rain, possibly causing more floods and landslides until Monday.
But the storm was unlikely to get any stronger, Rojas said.
“It could likely maintain its current intensity or even weaken,” he told AFP.
The Hong Kong government said Mangkhut will pose “a severe threat to the region.” Many residents in Hong Kong and neighbouring Macau have stocked up on food and supplies.
Volunteers also helped residents of low-lying Hong Kong fishing village Tai O hoist their furniture and appliances to higher ground.
The president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, told citizens to be ready as powerful waves pounded the shore.
“The typhoon is powerful and even (if) it’s not expected to make a landfall in Taiwan, we should be well prepared and not take it lightly,” she wrote in a Facebook post.