Typhoon Mangkhut roared towards densely populated Hong Kong and southern China on Sunday after wreaking havoc across the northern Philippines and leaving at least 29 people dead.
The strongest storm in the world so far this year sliced across the northern tip of Luzon Island on Saturday, bringing ferocious winds and heavy rain that caused landslides and led to houses collapsing.
More than five million people were in the path of the typhoon, equivalent to a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane when it hit the Philippines.
China and the Philippines agreed to postpone a visit by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi that was to start on Sunday due to the typhoon’s onslaught, which caused nearly 150 flights, a third of them international, to be cancelled and sea travel halted.
The Hong Kong Observatory said that although Mangkhut had weakened slightly, its extensive, intense rain bands were bringing heavy downfall and frequent squalls.
Storm surge of about 9.8 feet or above is expected at the city’s waterfront Victoria Harbour, the observatory said, appealing on the public to avoid the shoreline.
Those who died in the Philippines were mostly killed in landslides and houses that got pummelled by the storm’s fierce winds and rain.
Police Director General Oscar Albayalde said 20 had died in the Cordillera region, four in Nueva Vizcaya province and another outside of the two regions, as the typhoon battered the rice-growing and mountain area on Saturday.
Three more deaths have been reported in northeastern Cagayan province, where the typhoon made landfall.
Among the fatalities were an infant and a two-year-old child who died with their parents after the couple refused to immediately evacuate from their high-risk community in a mountain town in Nueva Vizcaya province, Francis Tolentino, an adviser to Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, said.
At least two other people were still missing, he said, adding that the death toll could climb to at least 16 once other casualty reports were verified.
Mayor Mauricio Domogan said at least three people died and six others were missing in his mountain city of Baguio after strong winds and rain destroyed several houses and set off landslides, which also blocked roads to the popular holiday destination. It was not immediately clear whether the deaths and missing cited by Mr Domogan had been included in Mr Tolentino’s count.
About 87,000 people had evacuated from high-risk areas of the Philippines. They were advised not to return home until the lingering danger had passed.
In Hong Kong, security minister John Lee Ka-chiu urged residents to prepare for the worst.
Cathay Pacific said all of its flights would be cancelled between 2.30am local time on Sunday (7.30pm Saturday BST) and 4am on Monday (9pm Sunday BST).
“Because Mangkhut will bring winds and rains of extraordinary speeds, scope and severity, our preparation and response efforts will be greater than in the past,” he said. “Each department must have a sense of crisis, make a comprehensive assessment and plan, and prepare for the worst.”
In nearby Fujian province in China, 51,000 people were evacuated from fishing boats and around 11,000 vessels returned to port on Saturday morning.
China’s National Meteorological Centre issued an alert saying Mangkhut would make landfall somewhere on the coast in Guangdong province on Sunday afternoon or evening.
Mangkhut, the Thai word for mangosteen fruit, is the 15th storm this year to batter the Philippines, which is hit by about 20 a year and is considered one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.