Millions of people in the Philippines were on high alert Wednesday for one of the strongest typhoons to ever hit the disaster-battered country, with authorities warning of giant storm surges and destructive winds.
Super Typhoon Haima was forecast to hit remote communities in the far north of the country about 11:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Wednesday, bringing winds almost on a par with catastrophic Super Typhoon Haiyan that claimed more than 7,350 lives in 2013.
“It’s not just heavy rain and strong winds that we are expecting. It’s also floods, landslides and storm surges in coastal areas. Those in these areas, you are in danger. Find safer ground,” Allan Tabel, chief of the interior ministry’s disaster and information coordinating centre, told a nationally televised briefing.
With Haima having a weather band of 800 kilometres (500 miles), more than 10 million people across the northern parts of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon will be affected, according to the government’s disaster risk management agency.
Haima was approaching the Philippines with sustained winds of 225 kilometres an hour and gusts of 315 kilometres an hour, according to the state weather bureau.
Authorities warned coastal communities to expect storm surges of five metres (16 feet) or higher.
“It’s already started. The wind is strong, the waves are big,” said Julie Hermano, manager of a small resort in Santa Ana, a coastal town of about 30,000 people that is in the typhoon’s direct path.
“Some residents have been panic-buying food in markets because we were told it’s going to be a super typhoon. We’ve already tied down our water tank and prepared our (power) generator set.”
The Philippine islands are often the first major landmass to be hit by storms that generate over the Pacific Ocean. The Southeast Asian archipelago endures about 20 major storms each year, many of them deadly. The most powerful and deadly was Haiyan, which destroyed entire towns in heavily populated areas of the central Philippines.
“We are possibly dealing with a typhoon that is even stronger than Typhoon Yolanda (as Haiyan was known in the Philippines) in 2013. We must therefore brace ourselves for the possible effects of a typhoon of this magnitude,” government executive secretary Salvador Medialdea said in a statement.
“We call on all government agencies to be on highest level of preparedness and to take all necessary precautions.”
In the northern regions expected to be worst hit, tens of thousands of people sought refuge in schools and other makeshift evacuation centres as authorities raised the highest typhoon alert of “signal five”.
Flights to the north were also suspended and schools were closed.
The Philippine capital of Manila is about 450 kilometres south of where Haima is forecast to make landfall. Authorities said the city, with about 12 million people, was not expected to be badly hit although it would be hit with some rain.
Haima was forecast to exit the Philippines Friday, then track towards southern China.
Haima is the second typhoon to hit the northern Philippines in a week, after Sarika claimed at least one life and left three people missing.