More than 5 million people were at risk from the storm, which the Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center downgraded from a super typhoon.
"The rains will be strong and the winds are no joke".
At daybreak in Cagayan's capital, Tuguegarao, Associated Press journalists saw a severely damaged public market, its roof ripped apart and wooden stalls and tarpaulin canopies in disarray. Cars shook as gusts pummeled a parking lot. Storm warnings have been raised in nearly all the provinces across the main northern island of Luzon, including the capital, Manila, restricting sea and air travel. They said the fast-moving typhoon has gained speed as it moves northwestward at 19 miles per hour.
Super Typhoon Mangkhut claims first victims
Government forecaster Rene Paciente said that even if the typhoon weakened slightly after slamming ashore, its winds would remain very destructive.
Those who live in the typhoon's projected path and can not flee have been reinforcing their homes and stocking up on food.
Authorities in the Philippines have said they were better prepared for the storm than in previous years.
A super typhoon wrought heavy damage to Banez's hotel and the rest of Cagayan in 2016.
Mangkhutis expected to cause widespread damage to infrastructure, agriculture and livelihoods within its 900-kilometer diameter, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said in a statement Friday.
Thousands of evacuees have taken refuge in emergency shelters.
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The Philippines is still haunted by the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,300 people in central areas of the country in 2013, most due to huge storm surges.
"We are expecting the weather to improve, except for some portions that will have some intermittent rainfall, particularly the western sections of the country", Cayanan said, speaking Filipino.
Officials have repeatedly warned that storm surges of up to six meters are likely in the coastal areas of Cagayan, Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte, as well as Ilocos Sur when the eye of Ompong is over Batanes. Officials said other northern provinces started evacuating residents from high-risk areas, including in northern mountain provinces prone to landslides.
China and the Philippines agreed to postpone a visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that was to start Sunday due to the onslaught, which caused almost 150 flights, a third of them global, to be canceled and halted sea travel.
It packed powerful gusts of up to 255 kilometers (160 miles) per hour and sustained winds of 205 kilometers per hour while heading west across the disaster-prone archipelago towards China.
In Hong Kong, Security Minister John Lee Ka-chiu urged residents to prepare for the worst as the storm barreled toward the southern Chinese city.
However, the Hong Kong Observatory warned that the massive typhoon will pose a "severe threat" to China's southern coast before moving on to northern Vietnam.
Storm warnings have been issued in 39 provinces and sea and air travel has been restricted. Local government units, the AFP, the Philippine National Police, and the Philippine Coast Guard have since been placed on alert to respond to the typhoon.
"It's still a life and death situation", he said.
When asked by reporters if the government is willing to seek assistance from the worldwide community, Duterte said: "It would depend on the severity of the crisis". 'If it flattens everything, maybe we need to have some help'.
The Philippines endures about 20 typhoons and storms...
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Even though it has downgraded from hurricane strength after making landfall, the storm had killed at least five people till now. But Florence's forward movement had slowed to a crawl, and it piled on the rain in a siege that could go on all weekend long.
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Calls for help kept coming in as the wind picked up and the tide arrived, said city public information officer Colleen Roberts. The town of 30,000 is bordered by two rivers and was hit hard by Florence. "The water kept rising and kept rising", he said.
Pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems should consult their doctors before receiving any type of vaccine. Children tend to be "super spreaders" of flu, so protecting them is crucial for protecting the rest of the population.
A buoy off the North Carolina coast recorded waves almost 30 feet high as Florence churned toward shore. NHC Director Ken Graham said on Facebook the storm surges could push in as far as 2 miles (3 km).
Atlantic Beach, located on the state's Outer Banks barrier islands, had received 30 inches (76 cm) of rain, the U.S. In Charleston, South Carolina, streets were quiet with schools and many offices and businesses closed.
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Hurricane Florence from space
North Carolina seems to be the state that could bear the brunt of the winds, along with SC and parts of southern Virginia. In the Pacific, Olivia became a tropical storm again, on a path to hit the Hawaiian islands early Wednesday.