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story.lead_photo.caption Workers in Tuguegarao city, Philippines, pass a gas station damaged by strong winds from Typhoon Mangkhut as the storm barreled across the northern part of the country Saturday.

TUGUEGARAO, Philippines -- Typhoon Mangkhut roared toward Hong Kong and southern China today after lashing the northern Philippines with destructive winds and heavy rain that left at least 12 dead in landslides and collapsed houses.

The world's strongest storm so far this year slammed ashore in the Philippines before dawn in Cagayan province on the northeastern tip of Luzon island, a breadbasket that is also a region of flood-prone rice plains and mountain provinces with a history of deadly landslides.

More than 5 million people were at risk from the storm, which the Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center downgraded from a super typhoon. Mangkhut, however, was still punching powerful winds and gusts equivalent to a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane when it hit the Philippines.

China and the Philippines agreed to postpone a visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that was to start today. The typhoon's onslaught also caused nearly 150 flights, a third of them international, to be canceled, and it halted sea travel.

The Hong Kong Observatory said that although Mangkhut had weakened slightly, its extensive, intense rainbands were bringing heavy downfall and frequent squalls. A storm surge of 10 feet or above is expected at the southern Chinese city's waterfront Victoria Harbor, the observatory said, urging the public to avoid the shoreline.

Francis Tolentino, an adviser to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, said most of the 12 people died in landslides and houses that got pummeled by the storm's fierce winds and rain. Among the fatalities were an infant and a 2-year-old child who died with their parents after the couple refused to immediately evacuate from their high-risk community in a mountain town in Nueva Vizcaya province, Tolentino said.

"They can't decide for themselves where to go," he said of the children, expressing frustration that the tragedy was not prevented.

Tolentino, who was assigned by Duterte to help coordinate disaster response, said at least two other people were missing. He said the death toll could climb to at least 16 once other casualty reports were verified.

Mayor Mauricio Domogan said at least three people died and six others were missing in his mountain city of Baguio after strong winds and rain destroyed several houses and set off landslides, which also blocked roads to the popular vacation destination. It was not immediately clear whether the deaths and missing cited by Domogan had been included in Tolentino's count.

Authorities were verifying the drownings of three people, including two children who reportedly died as the typhoon approached. About 70 men reportedly returned to their coastal village in Cagayan to check on their homes as the storm drew closer Friday, but Tolentino said he had received no reports of the men figuring in an accident.

Mangkhut's sustained winds weakened to 105 mph with gusts of up to 161 mph after it sliced northwestward across Luzon before blowing out to the South China Sea, aiming at Hong Kong and elsewhere in southern China.

About 87,000 people had evacuated from high-risk areas of the Philippines. Tolentino and other officials advised them not to return home until the lingering danger had passed.

"It's still a life-and-death situation," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said by phone, citing past drownings in swollen rivers in mountain provinces after storms had passed.

In Cagayan's capital, Tuguegarao, where the typhoon made landfall on Saturday, Associated Press journalists saw a severely damaged public market, its roof ripped apart and wooden stalls and tarpaulin canopies in disarray. Outside a popular shopping mall, debris was scattered everywhere and government workers cleared roads of fallen trees.

Many stores and houses were damaged but most residents remained indoors as occasional gusts sent small pieces of tin sheets and other debris flying dangerously.

The Tuguegarao airport terminal was badly damaged, its roof and glass windows shattered by strong winds that also sent chairs, tables and papers flipping about inside, Lorenzana said.

The typhoon struck at the start of the rice and corn harvesting season in Cagayan, a major agricultural producer, prompting farmers to scramble to save what they could of their crops, Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said.

In Hong Kong, Security Minister John Lee Ka-chiu urged residents to prepare for the worst. Cathay Pacific said all of its flights would be canceled through 4 a.m. Monday local time.

In nearby Fujian province in China, 51,000 people were evacuated from fishing boats and about 11,000 vessels returned to port on Saturday morning.

China's National Meteorological Center issued an alert saying Mangkhut would make landfall somewhere on the coast in Guangdong province this afternoon or evening.

Mangkhut, the Thai word for mangosteen fruit, is the 15th storm this year to batter the Philippines, which is hit by about 20 a year and is considered one of the world's most disaster-prone countries.

Information for this article was contributed by Jim Gomez and Gillian Wong of The Associated Press.

A Section on 09/16/2018

Print Headline: Philippines pummeled by typhoon

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