Villagers of flood-prone Tai O have begun preparations for what could be one of the strongest storms to hit Hong Kong since records began.

Super Typhoon Mangkhut is expected to pick up wind strength over Saturday night. The Observatory is considering raising a No.8 storm signal on Sunday if conditions persist.

See also: LIVE: Hong Kong braces as Super Typhoon Mangkhut closes in

“At 6 p.m., the super typhoon was estimated to be about 610 kilometres southeast of Hong Kong,” the agency said. A strong wind signal No.3 remains in force.

Tai O super typhoon mangkhut
Volunteers move a fridge to higher ground. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Around 200 volunteers arrived to help Tai O residents secure their belongings on Saturday, while government helpers and members of the Red Cross arrived later in the afternoon to assist.

The fishing village is known for its stilt houses and is prone to flooding following a storm surge, owing to its low-lying position by a large inlet on the western coast of Lantau Island. A river wall was installed after Typhoon Hagupit in 2008 to direct flood water away from vulnerable properties, but the community was ravaged again last year by storm surge from Typhoon Hato.

‘Protect the house’

Most residents had been evacuated by Saturday afternoon to the nearby Lung Tin Estate, built on higher ground. But some have decided to remain despite the flood warnings.

Tai O super typhoon mangkhut
Stilt houses in Tai O. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Wong Pui-yi, a retired social worker, said that elderly residents are the most reluctant to leave: “Most of them won’t go to Lung Tin Estate because they want to see what happens to their house. They stay because they believe that their presence will protect the house,” she told HKFP.

She said that some of the stilt houses are over 100 years old and have steel roofs that are prone to breaking apart in strong winds.

Tai O super typhoon mangkhut
Tai O residents who chose to remain. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

“It’s not going to be dangerous,” said Grandma Yu, who lives in a house on the edge of the river. “Last time the flood was up to my waist. I won’t leave, I will go to higher ground if it gets bad. It doesn’t matter – I’m used to being flooded.”

Vangie Lee, a former Tai O resident, said some villagers did not believe the storm forecast because of the recent clear weather.

“Some elderly people don’t believe that there will be a typhoon because it hasn’t rained for a week and yesterday, they saw a double rainbow.”

Tai O super typhoon mangkhut
Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Timmy Tso, the owner of Solo Café, told HKFP that he is not worried about the storm surge because his two-storey house is made of concrete: “The government wants senior people to leave the stilt houses, but it’s not a problem for us,” he said. “My father and auntie don’t want to leave, so I need to take care of them.”

Another resident has converted his building into a temporary cat shelter, housing the village’s 20-plus feline residents.

Super typhoon

Super typhoon Mangkhut is expected to be closest to Hong Kong on Sunday at daytime. Its strength will decrease when it is further away from Hong Kong on Monday, but it will depend on the rate at which it slows.

“[T]he wind will be very strong. The public should take preventive measures as soon as possible,” said Cheng Cho-ming, assistant director of the Observatory.

The super typhoon slammed into the northern Philippines on Saturday with violent winds and torrential rain.

According to the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System, up to 43.3 million people across the region may be affected by the storm.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.