MANILA, Philippines–Super Typhoon “Odette” (international name Usagi), the most powerful storm of the year, brought torrential rain and strong winds to the Philippines and Taiwan Saturday, uprooting trees and knocking out power as it barrelled towards Hong Kong.
The typhoon battered the Batanes Group of Islands in the far north of the Philippines overnight with gusts of up to 250 kilometers per hour, affecting communication lines and damaging crops, officials said.
It triggered landslides and power outages in parts of the north of the country, including Batanes province where it made landfall early Saturday.
“The winds are very strong. I cannot even go out now,” Batanes governor Vicente Gato told a radio station in Manila. “Many trees have been uprooted and we have no electricity.”
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Center issued its highest alert, with flooding recorded in four regions of the main island of Luzon, the country’s most populous area, while several roads and bridges were rendered impassable by overflowing rivers or landslides.
There were no immediate reports of any casualties, although emergency and relief services said they were prepared for the worst with more than 100 families having already been evacuated in one northern province.
Public storm Signal No. 3 remained over Batanes, Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said.
Odette’s maximum sustained winds of 185 kilometers per hour and gustiness of up to 220 kph are expected to accelerate within the day, the state weather bureau said.
At 11 a.m. Saturday, the eye of “Odette” was seen 70 kilometers west of Itbayat, Batanes.
Signal No. 2 remains up over Cagayan, including Calayan and Babuyan Group of Islands, Apayao and Ilocos Norte.
Signal No. 1 is up over Abra, Kalinga, Isabela, Benguet, La Union, Ilocos Sur, Mt. Province and Ifugao.
In Taiwan, some flights were cancelled and ferry services suspended, with schools and offices in many parts of the island closed, especially in the south and east, which were expected to bear the brunt of the storm, authorities said.
Hotels and resorts in mountainous areas were closed due to fears of flooding and landslides.
Coastguards cordoned off the beaches at Kenting, a popular scenic spot in the south, as strong winds whipped up the sea.
The defense ministry has deployed more than 1,600 soldiers to “high risk” areas and placed 24,000 others on standby.
Nearly 2,500 people had already been evacuated, officials said, as the Central Weather Bureau warned people to expect up to 1.2 meters (47 inches) of rain.
Hong Kong, China
In Hong Kong, officials warned the storm posed a “severe threat” to the city, urging residents to brace for strong winds and possible flooding, while Cathay Pacific said it may have to cancel flights.
“The weather will deteriorate significantly with high winds and rough seas,” the city’s observatory said.
China’s National Meteorological Center issued a red alert — its highest level warning — as it forecast gale-force winds and heavy rain.
It said Usagi would affect the coastal areas of the provinces of Guangdong, Zhejiang and Fujian as it moved northwest.
Nearly 23,000 fishing boats had earlier taken shelter in Fujian province ahead of the storm, state media reported Saturday, while more than 4,000 people living in coastal areas were evacuated.
The region is regularly pummelled by tropical storms. Typhoon “Pablo” (Bopha) left a trail of destruction in the southern Philippines last year, triggering floods and landslides that left more than 1,800 dead and missing and displaced nearly one million people.
In August 2009, Typhoon Morakot killed about 600 people in Taiwan, most of them buried in huge landslides in the south, in one of the worst natural disasters to hit the island in recent years.
Hong Kong rarely suffers major loss of life as a result of tropical storms, although Typhoon Rose in 1971 killed 110 people in the city. With Associated Press