updated 5/15/2006 12:35:48 PM ET 2006-05-15T16:35:48

Hong Kong began preparing for its first typhoon of the storm season Monday as Chanchu began whirling toward the city after killing nearly 40 people and leaving thousands homeless in the Philippines.

The storm — expected to start lashing Hong Kong on Wednesday — was picking up strength in the South China Sea early Monday, the Hong Kong Observatory said.

Chanchu, which means "Pearl" in Chinese, was moving north-northwest at 8.7 mph and was packing maximum sustained winds of 109 mph, the observatory said.

The storm blew away from the Philippines on Sunday, after killing at least 37 people. Most were on a ferry that sank near central Masbate island after a coast guard ban on sea travel was ignored.

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