A 'weakened' Super Typhoon Mangkhut slammed Hong Kong with 160kph winds, ripping out apartment windows (above) and causing 3-metre storm surges in the harbour. (Bloomberg photo)
HONG KONG: - Typhoon Mangkhut battered Hong Kong and Macau on Sunday with 160kph wind gusts, drenching rains and 3-metre surges of seawater that inundated the first urban area of Asia to face the wrath of the year's mightiest storm.
Mangkhut left a swathe of damaged buildings and scores of injuries in Hong Kong and Macau before churning across the southern coast of China. Barely a day earlier, it ravaged the northern Philippines and left dozens buried in landslides, including people sheltering in a church and a dormitory for miners.
The Philippines death toll was expected to rise sharply as rescue workers began moving in.
While the other side of the world was preoccupied with the destructive power of Hurricane Florence as it drenched the Carolinas, Mangkhut hurtled into southern China's city of Taishan, in sprawling, densely populated Guangdong province, making landfall around 5 p.m.
China's state television reported that at least two people had been killed in the province. As night fell, the full extent of the damage was not yet clear.
Meteorologists have called Mangkhut the world's most powerful storm of 2018, with a span as wide as 1,000 kilometres and wind gusts that hit 300kph last week. At its peak, the typhoon was equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane.
For Hong Kong, a metropolis that has shrugged off tropical storms in the past, Mangkhut was different. Though its peak gusts had slowed to 160kph, Hong Kongers were taking no chances.
The typhoon accelerated as it crossed the South China Sea, landing a nearly direct hit on Hong Kong at midday Sunday and sweeping through the city's canyons of tall buildings.
By then, the city's normally teeming streets were clear of people and cars, as residents heeded the local weather authority's signal 10 storm warning - its highest level.
For the first time ever, Macau, the gambling capital nearby, closed its casinos because of a storm. By the time the winds and rain eased, central parts of Macau had suffered major flooding and 20,000 people were left without electricity.
Hong Kong Airport, a central transit point for much of Asia, was virtually shut down Sunday. Almost 1,000 flights were cancelled or delayed. The outdoor sections of the city's vaunted subway system were taken out of service.
Airports and high-speed railways in Guangdong, too, were shut down, throttling traffic in one of world's most urbanized and densely populated regions, with 100 million people. By midday, most bridges in the province, which stretches southwest toward Hainan Island, were closed. Schools in the province, along with those in Hong Kong and Macau, have been ordered closed Monday, when the storm's effects were expected to linger.
China's state television did not immediately provide details about the two deaths, but they followed reports on social media of people crushed by falling debris in Shenzhen and Dongguan, two cities along the Pearl River near Hong Kong.
There were no reports of deaths in Hong Kong, but by late afternoon Sunday, 213 people had sought medical treatment, according to a government statement. More than 1,000 people sought refuge in 48 temporary shelters.
As the storm reached the mainland Sunday evening, cities along China's southern coast seemed eerily vacant, with residents mostly heeding warnings to stay indoors. As in Hong Kong, they had stockpiled water and basic foods Saturday and Sunday, emptying stores.
Guangzhou, the region's capital and largest city, ordered all restaurants closed to keep people off the streets. Xinhua, China's official news agency, citing government reports, said that nearly 2.5 million people in the province had been affected in some way, with some seeking protection in more than 18,000 designated shelters.
Tens of thousands of fishing boats - fishing is a main part of the region's economy, along with chemical and steel works - were ordered to port before the storm. Authorities detained several fishermen who had defied warnings and put to sea anyway.
As the storm swirled through the night, it seemed likely that casualties and damage would grow, with the full impact of the typhoon becoming clearer Monday morning.
Mangkhut's assault on Hong Kong tested a metropolis that has developed intricate safeguards against typhoons. The city's mountainous terrain typically hinders flooding, and retaining walls on steep slopes prevent landslides.
But on Sunday, some were in danger of failing. The Hong Kong Observatory warned people to stay away from steep hills and retaining walls and issued evacuation notices to residents living in areas prone to landslides. Temporary shelters were opened.
On Sunday, most residents hunkered down in their apartments, while those in more flood-prone areas took refuge in shelters.
As the storm bore down, people took to Facebook and WhatsApp messaging groups, circulating photos of the hurried preparations: cars and motorcycles mummified with cling wrap, indoor storefronts encased with spiderweb-like tape. One Instagram user altered an image to add Spider-Man onto the side of a Hong Kong building, where he'd pitched in by putting tape on a window.
As the storm unleashed its full force, the postings became more ominous.
Videos showed glass windows and doors smashing, pedestrians blown off the ground and residents frantically bailing rainwater off their balconies to prevent flooding.
In the Mong Kok neighbourhood, video captured the collapse of a crane or elevator shaft affixed to a building construction site. No injuries were reported.
Fearsome winds caused storm surges as high as three metres in Victoria Harbour, which separates Hong Kong Island from the rest of the city. The winds abated a bit in the afternoon as the typhoon headed toward the Pearl River estuary in Guangdong, where a cluster of fast-growing cities are considered particularly prone to climate change.
Lily Chiu, a 60-year-old caregiver in Hong Kong, had stayed overnight at the nursing home where she worked to avoid commuting to an early shift when the storm hit. Other than the tape on the windows of residents' rooms, it had been a normal day, with hot meals running on schedule.
But this storm felt different.
"These last few hours felt more severe than other typhoons I had experienced," Chiu said, after speakers announced that train services to the station near her home had been suspended. She prepared to walk home.
In the eastern Hong Kong neighbourhood of Heng Fa Chien, residents of a flooded housing complex linked arms and held hands as they waded knee-deep through pools of rainwater in streets, parking lots and stores.
"How am I going to go home?" one elderly man asked despondently into a phone.
"Heng Fa Chuen has become a water reservoir," May Siu, a long-time resident, said. "I've lived here 30 years, and these storms only started looking like this with Hato last year," Hato was the biggest typhoon last year.
Shaking their heads at the snapped lampposts and flooded entryways, residents said that the storm Sunday had done far more damage than last year's. Then teenagers rolled up their shorts and prepared to wade home through floating debris.