Typhoon Mangkhut nears Hong Kong, China after pummeling Philippines

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Typhoon Mangkhut swirled towards Hong Kong and the Chinese coast on Sunday, gaining in strength over the South China Sea after hurtling through the Philippines, where it wreaked devastation that killed at least seven.

The tropical cyclone 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 southern Guangdong province, and the gaming center 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 travelers had plans disrupted after Hong Kong’s international airport, a major regional hub, canceled most flights. Airlines such as its flagship carrier, Cathay Pacific, canceled many flights last week.

Last year, Typhoon Hato, one of the strongest in recent years, pummeled the region, with Macau suffering wide damage and nine deaths, sparking criticism that authorities had not been well prepared.

Macau has been cautious this time, with officials saying it shut casino gambling operations late on Saturday and 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.

China has ordered about 6,000 boats to return to harbor, and evacuated thousands of offshore oil platform workers, the state news agency, Xinhua, said.

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