Updated at 10:25 p.m. ET
Super typhoon Mangkhut barreled into the northern Philippines early Saturday morning, with the eye of the storm passing over the island of Luzon.
The Associated Press reports the Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center downgraded Mangkhut from a super typhoon to an equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane after it made landfall before dawn Saturday.
“In the open seas off the northern coast, Philippine Weather Authorities say waves are reaching 45 feet. On land, rain is falling at a rate of an inch and a half an hour across a broad band of Luzon. Dams and rivers are dangerously high,” NPR’s Julie McCarthy reports from Manila.
Jerome Balinton, a Humanitarian Response Officer with Save the Children in Santiago City, Luzon, tells NPR, “This typhoon will be catastrophic, and will definitely cause massive impact to the communities that are directly in its path.”
Thousands of people began evacuating from coastal areas on Thursday, and government officials said they were coordinating personnel and supplies to deploy after the storm passes.
Jeff Canoy, a reporter with the ABS-CBS News Channel in the Philippines, shared a video from Tuguegarao, Cagayan Province, late Friday night:
Mangkhut, known as Ompong in the Philippines, has raised fears it could have the same destructive impact as typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 people there in 2013. NPR’s Jason Beaubien wrote of his experience covering typhoon Haiyan from the Philippines, and the devastation the storm wrought there, “The municipal water wasn’t working. There was no electricity. No fuel. All the grocery stores had been destroyed. We’d brought thousands of dollars to try to set up a reporting base but money was useless here. There was virtually nothing to buy.”
This time, the Philippines government says it’s prepared. 35-year-old Catherine Cabarles is a school teacher in Quezon City. She tells NPR, “The thing is, we really learned a lot from the Haiyan experience. So the concern is that we are trying to … do something about this. To be more alert when the storm surge does come in, especially for the low-lying or coastal areas of the Philippines, because at the time [of typhoon Haiyan] some people were not that educated about the storm surge. … But now, after that Haiyan experience … many of us are evacuating to higher places.”
Four million people are at risk from Mangkhut in the northern Philippines, and Balinton tells NPR few have the financial means to weather the storm, “The poor families living in this area have less capacity to recover quickly. … They are not well-equipped to immediately cover, for example, the need for shelter repair, the need to replace their household essentials.”
The Philippines’ agricultural heartland will bear the brunt of typhoon Mangkhut, and Cabarles worries that will result in shortages of some food throughout the country. “The highest signal of the typhoon is in the northern part of Luzon, and it’s also our rice granary, so on my way to school yesterday, I talked to my taxi driver,” Cabarles told NPR. “He is from there, and that’s where the typhoon is hitting now … and he said they have to harvest their rice two weeks earlier, before the grain is ripe enough. These things mostly will affect us, having a rice shortage.”
The New York Times reports Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered rice seized by customs officials at the country’s ports to be turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and used for relief aid.
In addition to the immediate concerns of flooding, landslides, power outages and shortages of food and essential supplies, aid workers say they’re concerned about the schools. “The schools will definitely be effected,” Balinton told NPR. “If these schools or communities don’t have enough capacity to immediately repair their school infrastructure or replace the teaching and learning materials, surely the typhoon will cause a long-term impact to children’s access to education.”
The New York Times reports Duterte has put the military on high alert, and barred troops from taking leave.
After passing over the Philippines, typhoon Mangkhut is predicted to hit Hong Kong on Sunday, where some residents, like Eliot Fisk, are also trying to prepare. “The Hong Kong government started taking precautionary measures yesterday, advising people in some low-lying areas to be ready to move, but unlike the concurrent situation in the Carolinas, people here don’t really have anywhere to run to,” Fisk told NPR. “The government is opening up some shelters. I went to the supermarket today, Friday morning, and they still had plenty of bread, milk, etc.”
The typhoon is forecast to cross over mainland China early next week. The State Department has issued a travel alert for Guangdong and Hainan provinces, warning of “extremely high winds, dangerous storm tides, heavy rainfall, and possible flooding.”