By Feliz Solomon
September 14, 2016

A spattering of tiny islands in the northernmost reaches of the Philippines sat directly in the path of the biggest storm of the year, Super Typhoon Meranti, which swept past Taiwan Wednesday morning on its way to mainland China.

Itbayat, the largest island in Batanes Province with a population of about 3,000 people, was captured in a striking satellite image sitting squarely in the center of the storm’s eye.

The image, credited to CNN, was shared on social media by environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben, who tweeted it along with the warning, “As scary a pic as I’ve ever seen.”

A spokesperson for the office of Judy Taguiwalo, the Philippines’ secretary of social welfare, told TIME Wednesday morning that Batanes was being closely monitored and was “now experiencing moderate to heavy rains and winds.”

One family of four was preemptively evacuated, and 16 people are stranded at sea after departing by boat to seek refuge on an island further south, said the spokesperson, Ina Silverio.

The extent of any damage in the Philippines is still unclear. Meranti is expected to wreak the most havoc in Taiwan, which hasn’t seen a storm of such severity since 1959.

Super Typhoon Meranti, known as Ferdie in the Philippines, is the strongest storm to form anywhere in the world this year and is currently the equivalent of Category 5 hurricane with winds that peaked at 230 m.p.h.

It is the most powerful storm to sweep the Pacific since Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines in 2013, killing more than 6,300 people and displacing about 4 million others.

Silverio said the Philippines has a stockpile of about $31 million in relief funds ready in case the storm unleashes disaster on the vulnerable archipelago.

In Taiwan, more than 1,500 people had been evacuated as of 7 a.m. local time, according to CNN, while almost 4,000 military and police personnel had been deployed to assist with any further response.

The storm appears to be weakening on its way to the coast of China, though CNN reported that winds were still as high as 177 m.p.h., dropping from 217 m.p.h. as Meranti approached Taiwan.

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