Thousands of people were being evacuated from their homes in the Philippines on Friday, as Super Typhoon Mangkhut, a colossal storm more than 550 miles wide with maximum sustained wind speeds of 170 miles per hour, howled across the Pacific.
The eye of Mangkhut, known as Ompong in the Philippines, was on course to hit in the early hours Saturday on the northern island of Luzon, the country’s rice and corn growing heartland, where more than four million people are at risk. The eye of the hurricane was about 160 miles offshore in the Pacific Ocean at 7 p.m. local time on Friday, according to the Philippines national weather service.
The storm, gusting at speeds equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane, passed the American territory of Guam on Thursday, knocking out 80 percent of the island’s electricity and downing trees and power lines. Catch up on the rest of our storm coverage.
Rescuers put on high alert
Across the Philippines, schools have been shuttered, home and business owners have boarded their windows and the military has been put on high alert.
President Rodrigo Duterte barred troops from taking leave, and ordered that illegally imported rice seized by customs officials at the country’s ports should be turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development for potential disaster relief.
Hundreds of bulldozers were made ready in the event of landslides, and rescue workers were being deployed across the country. In some cases, Mr. Duterte said, resources that had already been dispatched were being moved to get them out of the path of the storm.
A difficult choice for farmers: harvest or evacuate?
The president’s order that farmers harvest their most mature grains immediately set up a difficult choice for farmers who were also told to evacuate.
If the country was hit hard by the storm, the president predicted hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Hong Kong and Southern China are next in the storm’s path
After the Philippines, the storm is predicted to pass Hong Kong on Sunday before slamming into the Chinese mainland on Monday morning.
The Hong Kong Observatory warned residents of the territory to “take suitable precautions and pay close attention to the latest information” on the storm.
In mainland China, the southern provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan have ordered residents to seek shelter away from the coast.
The lessons of Typhoon Haiyan
Much of the planning for Mangkhut has been informed by Typhoon Haiyan, the devastating 2013 storm that led to the deaths of thousands of people and left more than four million people homeless.
That storm taught many lessons. Food and fresh water must be in position before a storm hits, as roads and airports may be closed for a week or more afterward because of fallen trees and other damage. Soldiers and police officers need to fan out to restore order as soon as the typhoon passes so civil society does not collapse in storm-ravaged areas. Evacuation centers need to be built on higher ground with stronger roofs.
Why is the Philippines calling the typhoon Ompong?
The task of naming typhoons falls to the Japan Meteorological Agency, which uses names sequentially from a list suggested by different countries. But when typhoons enter the Philippines’ area of responsibility for storm monitoring, they are assigned a different name by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, the national meteorological agency. It has issued its own list each year since it was established in 1972. Thus, Mangkhut becomes Ompong in the Philippines.
Local names, the agency reasons, are easier to remember in rural areas and make the storms feel more immediate, increasing the chance that people will take them seriously.
The Philippine agency also assigns names to tropical depressions, which are not named internationally, because even though they are less powerful than typhoons, they can still cause significant damage.
The internationally recognized name for the typhoon — “Mangkhut” — is the Thai word for mangosteen, a tropical, reddish-purple fruit native to Southeast Asia.
The mangosteen, which has a hard shell with white flesh inside, is cheap and plentiful in Asia but rarer and more expensive in the West, where it is nonetheless growing in popularity.