Super Typhoon Mangkhut packs winds of up to 162km/h as it barrels through south China

The typhoon made landfall on the coast of Jiangmen City in Guangdong on Sunday. Source: Associated Press



'Prepare for the worst' - Typhoon Mangkhut makes it way to Hong Kong after killing 28 in Philippines

 Hong Kong and southern China hunkered down under red alert as strong winds and heavy rain from Typhoon Mangkhut lashed the densely populated coast, a day after the biggest storm of the year left at least 28 dead from landslides and drownings in the northern Philippines.

Nearly half a million people had been evacuated from seven cities in Guangdong province, the gambling enclave of Macau closed down casinos for the first time and the Hong Kong Observatory warned people to stay away from the Victoria Harbour landmark, where storm surges battered the waterfront reinforced with sandbags. Mangkhut is due to make landfall in Guangdong later today.

The national meteorological center said southern China "will face a severe test caused by wind and rain" and urged officials to prepare for possible disasters.

The typhoon packed sustained winds of 155 kilometers (96 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 190 kph (118 mph). The Hong Kong Observatory said although Mangkhut had weakened slightly, its extensive, intense rainbands were bringing heavy downfall and frequent squalls.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled. All high-speed and some normal rail services in Guangdong and Hainan provinces were also halted Sunday, the China Railway Guangzhou Group Co. said.

In Fujian province and elsewhere, tens of thousands of fishing boats returned to port and construction work came to a stop.

Philippine National Police Director General Oscar Albayalde told The Associated Press that 20 people had died in the Cordillera mountain region, four in nearby Nueva Vizcaya province and another outside of the two regions. Three more deaths have been reported in northeastern Cagayan province, where the typhoon made landfall before dawn Saturday (local time).

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 Nueva Vizcaya mountain town, said Francis Tolentino, an adviser to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

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. 

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.

In Cagayan's capital, Tuguegarao, where the typhoon hit land, 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.

In Hong Kong, Security Minister John Lee Ka-chiu urged residents to prepare for the worst.

"Because Mangkhut will bring winds and rains of extraordinary speeds, scope and severity, our preparation and response efforts will be greater than in the past," Lee said. "Each department must have a sense of crisis, make a comprehensive assessment and plan, and prepare for the worst."

A resident walks beside toppled structures as Typhoon Mangkhut barreled across Tuguegarao city in Cagayan province, northeastern Philippines early Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. The typhoon slammed into the Philippines northeastern coast early Saturday, it's ferocious winds and blinding rain ripping off tin roof sheets and knocking out power, and plowed through the agricultural region at the start of the onslaught. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
A resident walks beside toppled structures as Typhoon Mangkhut barreled across Tuguegarao city in Cagayan province, northeastern Philippines. Source: Associated Press

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Two storms, Florence and Mangkhut, different as water and wind

Nature expresses its fury in sundry ways. Two deadly storms — Hurricane Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut — roared ashore on the same day, half a world apart, but the way they spread devastation was as different as water and wind.

Storms in the western Pacific generally hit with much higher winds and the people who live in their way are often poorer and more vulnerable, Princeton University hurricane and climate scientist Gabriel Vecchi said Saturday. That will likely determine the type of destruction.

Mangkhut made landfall Friday on the northeastern tip of Luzon island in the Philippines with top-of-the-scale Category 5 winds of 165 mph. Florence had weakened to a Category 1 storm with 90 mph winds by the time it arrived at North Carolina's coast.

Yet a day after landfall the faster-moving Mangkhut was back out over open water — weakened, but headed across the South China Sea toward China. Florence, meanwhile, was still plodding across South Carolina at a pace slower than a normal person walks. By Saturday morning, it had already dumped more than 30 inches (76 centimeters) of rain, a record for North Carolina.

Experts say Mangkhut may well end up being the deadlier storm.

As of Saturday afternoon (local time), the death count in the Philippines was a bit higher, although still far below that of other storms that have hit the disaster-prone island nation.

The storm dropped 10 to 18 inches of rain along the North Carolina coast. Source: Associated Press

And with Mangkhut now headed toward the densely populated southeast coast of China, it is likely to cause more death and destruction.

But watery Florence's insured loses total will eventually be higher, Ernst Rauch, head of climate research for the world's largest reinsurer Munich Re, told German media.

That's because of a combination of geography, climatic conditions and human factors.

The western Pacific has two-and-a-half times more storms that reach the minimum hurricane strength of 74 mph. It has three-and-a-half times more storms that reach major hurricane strength of 111 mph, and three times more accumulated energy out of those hurricanes, an index that measures not just strength and number of storms but how long they last, according to more than 65 years of storm data.

It's feared the US state could be in for its most destructive flooding in its history. Source: Associated Press

So far this year there have been 23 named storms in the western Pacific and 10 in the Atlantic, both regions more than 30 percent busier than average years. Hurricanes and typhoons are the same type of storm; both are tropical cyclones, but those that occur in the Pacific west of the International Date Line are called typhoons.

The water in the western Pacific is warmer, and warm water fuels storms. There are also only a few pieces of land to get in the way and weaken them, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.

"If we are ever going to have a Category 6 (a speculated-on level that's above current measurement tools), the western Pacific is where it's going to be," said meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com.

The Philippines tends to get hit nearly every year, the Carolinas far less frequently though with lots of close calls, Maue said. That shows another big difference in the storms. Mangkhut formed further south and stayed south — over warmer water. Florence was out of the tropics when it hit land.

Because of that, Florence was weakened by the dry air and upper level winds of the higher latitudes. Not so the more southerly Mangkhut, which Maue said, "essentially had a perfect environment to intensify to a Category 5 and stay there."

"Mangkhut and Florence are certainly different animals," said Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. Because Florence is moving so slowly, he said, it will dump more rain than Mangkhut, which is named for the Thai word for the mangosteen fruit.

Both storms have lasted a long time, especially Florence which formed all the way over near Africa 15 days before landfall, McNoldy said. Both storms cover a large area, but Mangkut still dwarfs Florence. Mangkhut's tropical storm force winds stretched more than 325 miles from the center, while Florence's spread about 195 miles, Klotzbach said.

"It was very dark, all you could see was water and wind, you couldn't really figure out what was going on out there," a neighbour said. Source: Associated Press

Economics also play a role in a storm's impact. As a developing country, the Philippines is much poorer than the southeastern United States, which means houses tend to be less sturdy and first responders less well equipped, among other factors. This is one reason why, when disaster does strike, the effects can be devastating. In 2013, one of the most powerful storms on record, Typhoon Haiyan , killed 7,300 people and displaced more than 5 million when it swept across the islands of the central Philippines.

Straddling the famous Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines is also bedeviled by volcanoes and earthquakes, and while there are considerable patches of poverty in North and South Carolina, it is not the same as the rural area where Mangkhut hit.

Typhoon Mangkhut, a category five storm, could bring winds of more than 280km/h. Source: 1 NEWS

Munich Re's Rauch said about 30 to 50 percent of storm damage is usually insured in the United States but often less than 10 percent in developing countries, meaning nine-tenths of the people hit will end up shouldering a bigger economic burden.

In the United States, "you can't move houses, but people can move out of the way," reflecting mounting damages from storms and often lower losses in life, Vecchi said.

As the world warms from the burning of fossil fuels, the globe will see both more extremely intense storms like Mangkhut and wetter storms like Florence, Vecchi said.

Ferocious winds and rain tore off tin roof sheets and knocked out power through Baggao, in Cagayan province. Source: Associated Press

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US Border Patrol agent suspected of being 'serial killer' after allegedly killing four women in two weeks

Texas state troopers arrested a US Border Patrol supervisor today who they say went on a two-week serial killing spree that left four female sex workers dead and ended only when a fifth woman escaped from him at a gas station and found help.

Juan David Ortiz, 35, an intel supervisor for the Border Patrol, fled from state troopers and was found hiding in a truck in a hotel parking lot in Laredo at around 2am today, Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar said at a news conference in the border city about 235 kilometres southwest of San Antonio.

Sheriff Cuellar said investigators have "very strong evidence" that he is responsible for the deaths of the four women working as prostitutes.

One of the victims was a transgender woman, said Webb County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz.

"We do consider this to be a serial killer," Mr Alaniz said.

Mr Alaniz told The Texas Tribune that after the suspect picked up the fifth woman she quickly realised that she was in danger.

"When she tried to escape from him at a gas station that's when she ran into a [state] trooper," Mr Alaniz said.

Ortiz will be charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated kidnapping, Mr Alaniz said.

He said that authorities believe Ortiz had killed all four women since September 3. The names of the victims were not immediately released.

Mr Alaniz said two of them were US citizens but the nationalities of the other two were not yet known.

"The manner in which they were killed is similar in all the cases from the evidence," said Mr Alaniz.

But both Mr Alaniz and Sheriff Cuellar declined to discuss the evidence or say how the women were killed.

Mr Alaniz said investigators are still trying to determine a motive for the killings. Sheriff Cuellar said investigators believe Ortiz acted alone.

"It's interesting that he would be observing and watching as law enforcement was looking for the killer, that he would be reporting to work every day like normal," Mr Alaniz said.

Ortiz was a 10-year veteran of the Border Patrol. US Customs and Border Protection issued a statement saying that it was fully cooperating with the investigation.

"Our sincerest condolences go out to the victims' family and friends. While it is CBP policy to not comment on the details of an ongoing investigation, criminal action by our employees is not, and will not be tolerated," the agency said.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, whose Texas Rangers are investigating, did not return several messages seeking comment.

San Diego, California, USA - July 4, 2016: International Border fence between USA -San Diego, and Mexico - Tijuana,  with border patrol car driving along the road.
International Border fence between USA -San Diego, and Mexico (file picture). Source: istock.com


Hurricane Florence death toll rises to 11 as North Carolina braces for widespread flooding

The Marines, the Coast Guard, civilian crews and volunteers used helicopters, boats and heavy-duty vehicles today to rescue hundreds of people trapped by Florence's shoreline onslaught, even as North Carolina braced for what could be the next stage of the disaster: widespread, catastrophic flooding inland.

The death toll from the hurricane-turned-tropical storm climbed to 11.

A day after blowing ashore with 145 km/h winds, Florence practically parked itself over land all day long and poured on the rain. With rivers rising toward record levels, thousands of people were ordered to evacuate for fear the next few days could bring the most destructive round of flooding in North Carolina history.

The storm dropped 10 to 18 inches of rain along the North Carolina coast. Source: Associated Press

More than 60 centimetres of rain had fallen in places, and the drenching went on and on, with forecasters saying there could be an additional 45 centimetres by the end of the weekend.

"I cannot overstate it: Floodwaters are rising, and if you aren't watching for them, you are risking your life," Governor Roy Cooper said.

As of today, Florence was centered about 95 kilometres west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, inching west at 4 km/h — not even as fast as a person walking. Its winds were down to 75 km/h. With half of the storm still out over the Atlantic, Florence continued to collect warm ocean water and dump it on land.

In its initial onslaught along the coast, Florence buckled buildings, deluged entire communities and knocked out power to more than 900,000 homes and businesses. But the storm was shaping up as a two-part disaster, with the second, delayed stage triggered by rainwater working its way into rivers and streams.

The flash flooding could devastate communities and endanger dams, roads and bridges.

Waves from Hurricane Florence pound the Bogue Inlet Pier in Emerald Isle N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Tom Copeland)
Source: Associated Press

Authorities ordered the immediate evacuation of up to 7,500 people living within 1.6 kilometres of a stretch of the Cape Fear River and the Little River, about 160 kilometres from the coast. The evacuation zone included part of the city of Fayetteville, population 200,000.

Officials in nearby Harnett County urged residents of about 1,100 homes to clear out because the Lower Little River was rising toward record levels.

One potential road out was blocked as flooding forced the shutdown of a 26-kilometre stretch of Interstate 95, the main highway along the Eastern Seaboard.

In New Bern, along the coast, homes were completely surrounded by water, and rescuers used inflatable boats to reach people.

Kevin Knox and his family were rescued from their flooded brick home with the help of Army Sergeant Johan Mackie, part of a team using a phone app to locate people in distress. Mackie rode in a boat through a flooded neighbourhood, navigating through trees and past a fencepost to get to the Knox house.

"Amazing. They did awesome," said Knox, who was stranded with seven others, including a boy who was carried out in a life vest. "If not, we'd be stuck upstairs for the next ... how long? I have no idea."

New Bern spokeswoman Colleen Roberts said 455 people in all were rescued in the town of 30,000 residents without any serious injuries or deaths. But thousands of buildings were damaged in destruction Roberts called "heart-wrenching."

Authorities evacuate a family from rising waters caused by Florence, now a tropical storm, on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018 in New Bern, N.C.  (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)
Source: Associated Press

Across the Trent River from New Bern, Jerry and Jan Andrews returned home after evacuating to find carp flopping in their backyard near the porch stairs.

Coast Guard helicopters were taking off across the street to rescue stranded people from rooftops and swamped cars. Coast Guard members said choppers had made about 50 rescues in and around New Bern and Jacksonville as of noon.

Rescue team member Sgt. Nick Muhar, from the North Carolina National Guard 1/120th battalion, evacuates a young child as the rising floodwaters from Hurricane Florence threatens his home in New Bern, N.C., on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)
Source: Associated Press

Marines rescued about 20 civilians from floodwaters near Camp Lejeune, using Humvees and amphibious assault vehicles, the base reported.

In Lumberton, about 130 kilometres inland, Jackie and Quinton Washington watched water filling both their front and back yards near the Lumber River. Hurricane Matthew sent more than 1.5 metres of water into their home in 2016, and the couple feared Florence would run them out again.

"If it goes up to my front step, I have to get out," Quintin Washington said.

The dead included a mother and baby killed when a tree fell on a house in Wilmington, North Carolina. South Carolina recorded its first death from the storm, with officials saying a 61-year-old woman was killed when her car hit a tree that had fallen across a highway.

"It was very dark, all you could see was water and wind, you couldn't really figure out what was going on out there," a neighbour said. Source: Associated Press

Three died in one inland county, Duplin, because of water on roads and flash floods, the sheriff's office said. A husband and wife died in a house fire linked to the storm, officials said, and an 81-year-old man died after falling and hitting his head while packing to evacuate.

Retired Marine Garland King and his wife, Katherine, evacuated their home in New Bern yesterday and returned today, sharing a kiss and joining hands as they drew near their house.

"It was tough. Wobbling. I was looking for water moccasins to hit me at any time," he said.

They finally made it, and found a soggy, stinking mess.

"The carpets. The floors. Everything is soaking wet," Katherine King said. "We're going to have to redo the whole inside."

The National Hurricane Center said Florence broke a North Carolina rainfall record that had stood for almost 20 years: Preliminary reports showed Swansboro got more than 75 centimetres and counting, obliterating the mark set in 1999, when Hurricane Floyd dropped just over 60 centimetres on the state.

As of noon, Emerald Isle had more than 58 centimetres of rain, and Wilmington and Goldsboro had about 30 centimetres. North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, had around 18 centimetres.

Stream gauges across the region showed water levels rising steadily, with forecasts calling for rivers to crest tomorrow and Tuesday at or near record levels. The Little River, the Cape Fear, the Lumber, the Neuse, the Waccamaw and the Pee Dee were all projected to rise over their banks, flooding cities and towns.

Forecasters said the storm will eventually break up over the southern Appalachians and make a sharp rightward swing to the northeast, its rainy remnants moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England by the middle of the week.

It's feared the US state could be in for its most destructive flooding in its history. Source: Associated Press