By Ditas B Lopez, Cecilia Yap, and Andreo Calonzo
For days now, Super Typhoon Mangkhut has been churning across the Pacific, keeping the millions of people potentially in its path on tenterhooks.
The powerful cyclone is forecast to make landfall in the Philippine province of Cagayan on Saturday morning, prompting Filipinos to brace for the worst. Five years ago, Haiyan, one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded struck the country and killed more than 6,300 people.
Mangkhut is forecast to slam across vast swathes of farmland in northern Philippines, threatening food supply at a time when the nation is already grappling with the fastest inflation in Asia. The storm, which caused flooding and power outages in the U.S. territory of Guam, is set to subsequently head to Hong Kong, China and Vietnam. Taiwan is also at risk of heavy rains.
As many as 36.7 million people could be affected, according to the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System’s latest estimate, reflecting changes in the storm’s path and strength. The storm, named after a fruit in Thailand, is forecast by the U.S. military’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center to pack maximum winds the equivalent of 173 miles per hour (278 kilometers per hour) with gusts as strong as 207 miles per hour.
Mangkhut’s expected landfall comes as another major storm plummets through the Atlantic, with Hurricane Florence’s 100-mile-per-hour winds hitting the North Carolina coast.
Here’s how this year’s strongest typhoon could affect Asia.
Destruction in the Philippines
As many as 824,000 of the 4.3 million people living in the path of Mangkhut are in danger and may have to be evacuated, Ricardo Jalad, executive director of the disaster management agency, said in a conference on Thursday. President Rodrigo Duterte and key government officials attended the command briefing.
The Philippine Red Cross estimates that 10 million people, some of whom have been displaced in the past, are at risk. An average of 20 storms pummel the archipelago each year. The deadly typhoon Haiyan in 2013 packed winds as strong as 315 kilometers per hour. The last time a Category 5cyclone threatened the Philippines was in October 2016.
Schools in the capital region and many parts of the main island of Luzon are shut Friday.
“There’s a possibility, albeit remote, that we might be spared,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said. “But for everyone, please be ready. Better to be prepared than sorry.”
Food Supply, Inflation
Mangkhut may damage as much as 11 billion pesos ($203 million) of rice and corn in the Philippines, with the storm coming just before the start of harvest, according to the latest estimate of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol. Farmers were urged to harvest their crops early.
“Economic activity will be impacted, but agriculture and fishing would be affected even more, hurting supply, and keeping the upside pressure on inflation” in the Philippines, said Chidu Narayanan, an economist at Standard Chartered Plc in Singapore. “Inflation is likely to remain elevated,” he said, projecting average consumer price gains of 5 percent for this year against the central bank’s target of 2 percent to 4 percent.
While the track of Mangkhut remains uncertain and it’s forecast to weaken after leaving the Philippines, Hong Kong said it will open 48 temporary shelters for people in need once it issues typhoon signal No. 3. Residents on some outlying islands have been asked to take precautions and move to a safe place.
Trading at the stock exchange is canceled in the morning if typhoon signal No. 8 or higher is announced after 9 a.m. The market will remain shut for the rest of the day if the alert is kept at those levels after noon. At hotels around the financial center, guests were warned to stay away from windows and to remain indoors.
Air Travel, Racing
Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. urged passengers traveling Sunday through Monday to or from Hong Kong to rebook their trips, offering to waive any charges. Hong Kong Express Airways Ltd. and Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. are offering similar arrangements.
Officials of The Hong Kong Jockey Club are assessing the situation and will decide if a race meeting at Sha Tin will proceed.
Philippine Airlines Inc. and Cebu Air Inc. canceled almost two dozen flights for Friday and Saturday.
China’s National Meteorological Center described Typhoon Mangkhut to possess “strong skills” like a Kungfu master in its Weibo account and advised the coastal area of Guangdong province, China’s manufacturing hub, to take precautions.
Guangdong has set up 3,777 shelters, while more than 100,000 residents and tourists have been moved to safety or sent home, according to the Associated Press. The province has recalled more than 36,000 fishing boats to port, suspended train services between the cities of Zhanjiang and Maoming and all ferry services between the Guangdong and Hainan, AP said. Fujian province, north of Guangdong, closed beaches and tourist sites, AP said.
In Taiwan, Premier Lai Ching-te urged residents in southern parts affected by floods in August to strengthen their defenses against the typhoon. While Mangkhut isn’t expected to make landfall in Taiwan, it’s forecast to bring heavy rains and strong winds this weekend, according to the Central Weather Bureau.
Energy assets in the typhoon’s projected path include CGN Power Co. Ltd.’s Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong, the oil products and petrochemical ports of Huizhou and Zhuhai in southern China, several oil refineries in Taiwan, southern China and Hainan island, and the Nghi Son port and oil refinery south of Hanoi in Vietnam.