The world’s most powerful typhoon this year gained strength on Thursday as it swirled towards the Philippines, forcing mass evacuations across a vast swathe of the disaster-weary nation.
Authorities warned more than 12 million people were at risk from Typhoon Haiyan, which was generating wind gusts exceeding 330 kilometres an hour and set to hit on Friday morning.
“This is a very dangerous typhoon, local officials know where the vulnerable areas are and have given instructions on evacuations,” state weather forecaster Glaiza Escullar said.
“There are not too many mountains on its path to deflect the force of impact, making it more dangerous.”
Haiyan was expected make landfall on Samar island, about 600 kilometres southeast of Manila, then cut across the central and southern Philippines before exiting into the South China Sea late on Saturday.
Escullar said Haiyan, which was advancing with a giant, 600-kilometre front, was expected to hit areas still recovering from a devastating 2011 storm and a 7.1-magnitude quake last month.
They include the central island of Bohol, the epicentre of the earthquake that killed 222 people, where at least 5,000 survivors are still living in tents while waiting for new homes.
“The provincial governor has ordered local disaster officials to ensure that pre-emptive evacuations are done, both for those living in tents as well as those in flood-prone areas,” Bohol provincial administrator Alfonso Damalerio said.
The Philippines is battered by an average of 20 major storms or typhoons each year, many of them deadly, but scientists have said climate change may be increasing their ferocity and frequency.