Philippines braces for super typhoon, the strongest this year

MANILA - Authorities grounded ferry servives and called in fishing boats on Thursday as an approaching super typhoon, the most powerful to hit the western Pacific this year, gained strength on a path set for the central Philippines.

With centre winds of 215 kph (133 mph) and gusts of up to 250 kph, typhoon Haiyan, rated a category-five storm, the most severe, was moving west northwest at 30 kph in the Pacific Ocean. It was expected to make landfall at mid-day on Friday between the central islands of Samar and Leyte.

"I have issued a call to prepare for the worst," said Ben Evardone, a member of Congress representing Eastern Samar province, one of the areas likely to be hit.

"We have mobilised all LGUs (local government units) and all resources for any contingency. There were already forced and pre-emptive evacuations in some danger areas," he said. Areas in the path of the storm were already experiencing strong winds and heavy rains, he said.

The coast guard suspended ferry operations, ordered a halt to fishing and warned deep-sea fishing boats to seek shelter or return to port. Schools and some offices were shut down and power and communication lines would be switched off.

Officials used bullhorns to tell residents of coastal and upland villages to move to safer areas, while some people were tying their houses on stable posts. Trees were being trimmed and boats dragged onto shore.

The state weather bureau raised storm alerts on coconut-growing Samar and Leyte. Officials in a dozen other central provinces also began stockpiling food, water and other relief supplies.

In September, typhoon Usagi with centre winds of 205 kph and gusts of up to 240 kph, also a category-five storm, battered the Philippines' northernmost island of Batanes before wreaking more damage in southern China.

An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year. In 2011, typhoon Washi killed 1,200 people, displaced 300,000 and destroyed more than 10,000 homes.

Bopha, the strongest storm to hit last year, flattened three coastal towns on the southern island of Mindanao, killing 1,100 people and destroying crops, property and infrastructure worth US$1.04 billion.