Strong typhoon set to wallop Philippines over Christmas

MANILA - A strong typhoon was set to wallop the Philippines on Christmas Day, officials warned Friday, as millions of people criss-cross the mostly Catholic nation to celebrate one of the most important dates on the religious calendar.

Nock-Ten was expected to be packing winds of up to 194 kilometres (120 miles) an hour and gusts of nearly 241 kilometres an hour when it hit the eastern tip of the archipelago's main island of Luzon on Sunday, the US Joint Typhoon Warning Center said.

The Philippine's weather bureau is predicting more modest wind speeds.

"Our people are being made aware that we could get hit on Christmas Day," Romina Marasigan, spokeswoman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, told AFP.

"The highest levels of preparedness are being undertaken," she said, including stocking up designated evacuation centres with food and other provisions.

Millions of Filipinos are travelling by land, sea or air to their hometowns for the festive holiday.

Local weather authorities said the storm could brush past Manila after Christmas Day if it maintained its current path.

The main threats were landslides and flash floods from heavy rains, as well as potentially large waves known as storm surges smashing through coastal communities, they said.

The Philippine islands are often the first major landmass to be hit by storms that generate over the Pacific. The Southeast Asian country endures about 20 major storms each year, many of them deadly.

The most powerful and deadliest was Haiyan, which left 7,350 people dead or missing and destroyed entire towns in heavily populated areas of the central Philippines in November 2013.

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