TUGUEGARAO: Super Typhoon Mangkhut slammed into the northern Philippines on Saturday (Sep 15), bringing heavy rain and causing widespread power and communications outages.
At least three people have been killed - two of them landslide set off by the typhoon, Philippine police said, the first reported deaths in the massive storm.
"As we go forward, this number will go higher," Ricardo Jalad, head of the nation's disaster agency told reporters, referring to the death toll.
The category 5 storm entered the province of Cagayan in the early hours and sent winds and rains across the entire main island of Luzon.
Disaster authorities have yet to complete damage assessments from Mangkhut, the 15th and most powerful storm to hit the Philippines this year, which had maximum gusts of 305 kph, and was expected to clear land after 10am on its way towards southern China and Vietnam.
The massive storm hurled debris and knocked out power lines when it made landfall on Luzon in the pre-dawn darkness.
"Almost all of the buildings here have been damaged, the roofs were blown away," said Rogelio Sending, a government official in Tuguegarao, the capital of Cagayan. "There has been no electricity supply ... communications were also down.
"We've received reports that many trees were uprooted and electric posts toppled and are blocking the roads. This makes the clearing operations really difficult."
Television footage and videos posted on social media showed bursts of rain, trees thrashed by winds, shop signs torn down and metal sheets peeled off roofs.
Authorities said some people had opted to stay home and ride out the storm to protect their properties.
Mangkhut, locally named Ompong, has a diameter of about 900km and gathered pace as it reached the Philippines, but has since slowed, with wind speeds falling to 180 kph.
It caused blackouts and left hundreds homeless when it struck US Pacific territories in Micronesia earlier.
Residents started lashing down their roofs and gathering supplies days before the arrival of the storm that forecasters said is the most powerful of 2018.
"WE ARE TERRIFIED"
An average of 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year, killing hundreds of people and leaving millions in near-perpetual poverty.
Thousands of people fled their homes in high-risk areas ahead of the storm's arrival because of major flooding and landslide risks.
"Among all the typhoons this year, this one (Mangkhut) is the strongest," Japan Meteorological Agency forecaster Hiroshi Ishihara told AFP on Friday.
"This is a violent typhoon. It has the strongest sustained wind (among the typhoons of this year)", he added.
After blasting the Philippines, Mangkhut is predicted to hurtle towards China's heavily populated southern coast this weekend.
"They (authorities) said this typhoon is twice as strong as the last typhoon, that's why we are terrified," Myrna Parallag, 53, told AFP after fleeing her home in the northern Philippines.
"We learned our lesson last time. The water reached our roof," she said, referring to when her family rode out a typhoon at home in 2016.
The country's deadliest on record is Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,350 people dead or missing across the central Philippines in November 2013.
Philippine authorities have said they are better prepared than in 2013.
It was too soon to know the extent of Mangkhut's devastation, said Francis Tolentino, an adviser to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and disaster response coordinator.
"I talked to the president last night. His clear and concise marching order was 'Save lives, save lives,'" Tolentino told news channel ANC.
Military, medical and emergency response teams were on standby, with more rescue teams ready to help first-responders in trouble, Ricardo Jalad, head of the disaster agency, told a televised meeting.
Winds, strong rain and power outages hit Manila, the capital, which is among more than three dozen northern and central provinces facing storm warnings.
About a quarter of the estimated 4.2 million people affected by the storm live in poverty and the United Nations estimated about 1.4 million farmers and 100,000 fishermen were hit by the typhoon.
Poor communities reliant on fishing are some of the most vulnerable to fierce typhoon winds and the storm surges that pound the coast.
"The rains will be strong and the winds are no joke ... We may have a storm surge that could reach four storeys high," Michael Conag, a spokesman for local civil defence authorities, told AFP.