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Weather

Philippines evacuates coastal communities as Typhoon Haiyan approaches

Thousands have evacuated as the eastern Philippines braces for the western Pacific’s strongest typhoon this year. The state weather service has warned that Haiyan continues to intensify.

Moving at approximately 30 kilometers per hour (20 mph) on its west-northwest course toward the Philippines, Haiyan packed maximum sustained winds of 215 kph and gusts of up to 250 kph, the weather bureau announced. Officials raised storm signal warnings in more than 30 provinces, including Eastern Samar, where the typhoon could make landfall on Friday.

"Pre-emptive evacuation has been implemented in a number of the high-risk areas in the provinces of Leyte and Southern Leyte," said Rey Gozon, the head of the regional civil defense office. "Evacuation centers have also been identified for the other areas expected to be affected by the typhoon," he added.

Gozon said that at least 500 families, or about 2,500 residents, had evacuated their homes near the city of Tacloban in Leyte and the town of San Francisco in Southern Leyte.

‘Very dangerous typhoon'

The Philippines gets an average of 20 major storms or typhoons each year, many of them deadly, but Haiyan's wind strength would make it the strongest for 2013. In September, Usagi, another Category 5 typhoon, battered the country's northernmost island of Batanes with center winds of 205 kph and gusts of up to 240 kph, before wreaking more damage in southern China. However, Typhoon Haiyan appears to exceed that.

"This is a very dangerous typhoon," state weather forecaster Glaiza Escullar told the news agency AFP. "Local officials know where the vulnerable areas are and have given instructions on evacuations. There are not too many mountains on its path to deflect the force of impact, making it more dangerous."

Escullar said the typhoon, approaching with a giant 600-kilometer front appeared on target to hit areas still recovering from last month's 7.1-magnitude quake. They include the central island of Bohol, the epicenter of the earthquake, which killed more than 200 people, where a local official said at least 5,000 people still lived in tents while waiting for new homes.

Officials expect that Haiyan will hit Samar Island, about 600 kilometers southeast of Manila, at about around 9 a.m. (0100 GMT) on Friday and cross over to the South China Sea to the north of the island of Palawan late Saturday, Escullar said.

mkg/rg (Reuters, AFP, dpa)