MANILA, Philippines – The most powerful typhoon to threaten the Philippines this year roared toward the country's north on Wednesday, prompting officials to order precautionary evacuations and closures of schools and offices, and farmers to quickly harvest their crops to reduce damage.
Forecasters said Typhoon Mangkhut could hit northern Cagayan province on Saturday. It was 1,190 kilometers (738 miles) away in the Pacific with sustained winds of 205 kilometers per hour (127 miles per hour).
Its sustained winds could strengthen to 220 kph (136 mph), or just below the super typhoon category, before making landfall, forecaster Meno Mendoza said.
With a massive rain band 900 kilometers (560 miles) wide, combined with seasonal monsoon rains, the storm could bring "heavy to intense" rains that could set off landslides and flash floods, Mendoza said.
Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said by telephone that northern coastal and island villages in the typhoon's projected path will begin evacuating residents on Thursday ahead of the expected onslaught. He said classes in schools would be suspended Thursday and offices, except those involved in rescue and relief work, would be advised to close on Friday.
In 2016, a super typhoon lashed the southern section of Cagayan, destroying tens of thousands of houses. Mangkhut is blowing from the Pacific and forecast to directly slam the province's northeastern coastal and island municipalities, Mamba said.
"I'm stressing that this one is very different, this is more complicated because of possible storm surges," Mamba said, referring to giant waves whipped inland by a typhoon.
The typhoon is arriving at the start of the rice and corn harvest season in Cagayan, a major agricultural producer, and farmers were scrambling to save what they could of their crops, Mamba said. The Philippines has been trying to cope with rice shortages.
Office of Civil Defense chief Ricardo Jalad said other northern provinces will also start evacuating residents from low-lying areas on Thursday.
"The worst case are those areas which will be directly hit by strong winds that can topple houses, storm surges and heavy rains that can cause flooding, and there may be landslides in higher areas," Jalad told reporters.
A missile test aboard a navy ship to be attended by President Rodrigo Duterte off northern Bataan province was canceled due to the approaching typhoon.
After leaving the Philippines, the fast-moving storm is expected to blow toward southern China on Sunday if it maintains its course, forecasters said.
Mangkhut is the 15th storm this year to batter the Philippines, which is hit by about 20 storms a year and is considered one of the world's most disaster-prone countries.
Typhoon Haiyan left more than 7,300 people dead or missing and displaced over 5 million in the central Philippines in 2014.