HONG KONG: A "super typhoon" swirled towards Hong Kong and the Chinese coastline on Sunday, gaining in strength over the South China sea after hurtling through the Philippines, where its trail of devastation killed at least seven.
Tropical cyclone Mangkhut is considered the strongest to hit the region this year, packing gale force winds of more than 200 kph (125 mph), equivalent to a maximum Category 5 "intense hurricane" in the Atlantic.
Philippine authorities confirmed 6 people were killed in landslides with four more missing, while another was found dead in a river in Manila, the capital.
Mangkhut, the Thai name for Southeast Asia’s mangosteen fruit, was expected to skirt 100 km (62 miles) south of Hong Kong and veer west towards the coast of China’s Guangdong province, and the gaming centre of Macau.
"According to the present forecast track, Mangkhut will be closest to the Pearl River Delta around noontime (0200 GMT)," the Hong Kong Observatory said.
Hong Kong has already raised its second highest No. 9 typhoon signal, which is expected to be stepped up within hours as fierce waves pound low-lying areas and strong winds rattle windows in many towering skyscrapers.
Some residents have been evacuated from low-lying areas with storm surges of up to 3.5 m (12 ft) expected.
Tens of thousands of people had travel plans disrupted after Hong Kong’s international airport, a major regional hub, cancelled most flights. Airlines such as its flagship carrier, Cathay Pacific , cancelled many flights last week.
Last year, typhoon Hato, one of the strongest storms of recent years, pummelled the region, especially Macau, which suffered extensive damage and nine deaths, prompting criticism that authorities had not been well prepared, and underestimated its force.
Macau has been extra cautious this time around. It shut casino gambling operations late on Saturday, authorities said, with China’s People’s Liberation Army on standby for any disaster relief assistance.
"The suspension is for the safety of casino employees, visitors to the city, and residents," the government of the world’s largest gambling hub said in a statement.
Chinese authorities have ordered about 6,000 boats to return to harbour, and evacuated thousands of offshore oil platform workers, the state news agency, Xinhua, said.
The typhoon is expected to make landfall around the Chinese port of Zhanjiang in western Guangdong on Sunday evening.
GRAPHIC: Typhoon Mangkhut – https://tmsnrt.rs/2oZmnIS
(Reporting by James Pomfret, Anne Marie Roantree and Farah Master; Additional reporting by Martin Petty in MANILA; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)