Hong Kong, Philippines Pick Up Pieces after Typhoon Mangkhut
The Philippines, Hong Kong, and parts of southern China are conducting rescue efforts and assessing damage after Typhoon Mangkhut — the strongest tropical cyclone on the planet this year — tore through the northern Philippines and made second landfall just west of Hong Kong, causing intense flooding, landslides, and widespread property damage. At press time, the death toll stood at 79, although authorities in the Philippines warn that the number will most certainly rise as rescue workers comb through a collapsed mine and landslide-hit villages.
After forming over the waters of the northwest Pacific on Sept. 7, Tropical Cyclone Mangkhut veered westward and struck the Marshall Islands, Guam, and the Northern Marianas on Sept. 10, knocking out power for most of Guam and causing widespread flooding. As United States Navy and Coast Guard personnel commenced with cleanup operations to reopen Guam to commercial and military shipping, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Honolulu confirmed that Mangkhut had grown in strength and size to become a super typhoon — a storm characterized by sustained winds of over 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour).
While forecasts on Sept. 11 placed Mangkhut on a path that would brush northern Luzon island of the Philippines, scrape southern Taiwan, and then make final landfall directly at Hong Kong, the super typhoon entered Philippine waters by Sept. 12 and reached its peak strength shortly before making landfall in northeastern Luzon island on Sept. 15. Torrential rains and hours of destructive sustained winds triggered landslides across the region, wiped out crops and power infrastructure, and killed at least 40 in initial casualty counts. Mangkhut departed Luzon island by the next day poised to directly hit Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s government issued its highest typhoon warning in the evening of Sept. 15 as the outer bands of the massive storm began to batter the city. The Chinese government evacuated 2.4 million people, recalled fishing boats back to port, and shuttered schools, offices, and casinos in preparation for the storm’s ultimate landfall, which came on the evening of Sept. 16 just 85 miles (136 kilometers) west of Hong Kong in the densely populated area of central Guangdong Province in China’s south.
The storm caused widespread and severe flooding throughout low-lying areas in Hong Kong and southern China; cut power to Macau; tore off roofs and shattered windows; uprooted trees and destroyed historic sites; and snarled transport around and about the region. While local governments reported a combined fatality count of at least four, authorities in Hong Kong declared damage done to the city was “severe and extensive,” with estimated damages and economic losses totalling at least a record one billion US dollars from insurance claims alone. Other cities across southern China were already reporting claims in the millions of US dollars by Sept. 18, with at least 20.4 million USD filed in Shenzhen City alone and another 80 million USD for the rest of Guangdong Province, with provincial officials estimating claims to ultimately reach at least 600 million USD.
Mangkhut, traversing further inland and rapidly weakening over the mountains of southwestern China, ultimately dissipated by late Sept. 17 over Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in China’s deep southwest, although on Sept. 19 Thailand reported one dead and scores more missing from a landslide triggered by the storm remnants in the country’s north.
The final tally of Mangkhut’s impact is yet to be determined, although preliminary rough estimates of economic disruption, property damage, and lives lost paint a picture befitting the super typhoon’s sheer meteorological strength and destructive potential. As rescue efforts in the landslide-afflicted northern Philippines continues, experts warn that time is running out to extract survivors — at least 100 are still reported missing — and the death toll is most certainly guaranteed to rise in the following weeks. Hong Kong’s government has announced an intent to review the city’s procedures for preparing and riding out major storms as the city struggles to return to normal while the Philippine government has released a new estimate of agricultural damage by Mangkhut — some 265 million USD — that is twice the size of the “worst-case scenario” presented by the country’s Agriculture Secretary prior to Mangkhut’s first landfall.