TACLOBAN, Philippines - Millions of people in the Philippines began seeking shelter in churches, schools and other makeshift evacuation centres on Friday as a monster typhoon bore down on the disaster-weary nation.
The storm, which would be the strongest to hit the Southeast Asian archipelago this year, is expected to impact more than half the nation including communities devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan last year.
Authorities said more than 500,000 families, or about 2.5 million people, in the eastern Philippines would be evacuated ahead of Hagupit's expected landfall on Saturday night or Sunday.
"Everyone here is gripped with fear," Rita Villadolid, 39, told AFP as she sat with her family and hundreds of other people inside a sports stadium in Tacloban, one of the cities still yet to recover from Haiyan.
Elsewhere in Tacloban, a coastal city of 220,000 people on the eastern island of Leyte, people began flooding into churches and schools with little more than bags of clothes.
Haiyan, the strongest storm ever recorded on land with winds of 315 kilometres (195 miles) an hour, killed or left missing more than 7,350 people as it tore across the central Philippines last year.
Hagupit was generating winds of 215 kilometres (133 miles) an hour on Friday as it tracked towards the Philippines from the Pacific Ocean.
The US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center on Friday downgraded Hagupit from the maximum super typhoon category to typhoon status.
But this would still make Hagupit the strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year, and it would also bring storm surges more than one storey high to many coastal areas, according to state weather agency Pagasa.
In the eastern region of Bicol alone, the government was aiming to move 500,000 families, about half the local population, into evacuation centres, regional civil defence director Bernardo Alejandro told AFP.
"All resources are being mobilised," Alejandro said, adding evacuations had begun on Friday.
He said local government and military trucks were being deployed to transport people to the shelters.
Bicol is a farming and fishing region slightly to the north of Leyte and other areas that were the worst hit by Haiyan last year.