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Dec 4, 2014 10:16 PM

Philippines braces for powerful, erratic typhoon

The Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines (AP) A wide swath of the Philippines, including the capital Manila, braced Friday for a dangerously erratic and powerful typhoon approaching from the Pacific, about a year after the country was lashed by Typhoon Haiyan that left more than 7,300 people dead.

Typhoon Hagupit Filipino for "smash" strengthened overnight with its sustained winds intensifying to 215 kilometers (134 miles) per hour and gusts of 250 kph (155 mph). The local weather agency PAGASA's forecasts show the typhoon may hit Eastern Samar province late Saturday or early Sunday.

But a forecast by the U.S. military's Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii said Hagupit (pronounced HA'-goo-pit) may veer northward after making landfall and possibly threaten Manila, which has population of more than 12 million people.

"We have alerted the people of Manila and we're ready," Mayor Joseph Estrada said, while acknowledging "these typhoons change direction all the time."

It is currently 450 kilometers (280 miles) from the country's eastern coast in the Pacific Ocean and moving slowly.

If the first forecast holds, Hagupit's path will send it barreling inland into central Philippines along the same route where Typhoon Haiyan leveled villages and left more than 7,300 dead and missing in November last year.

Still, Hagupit's erratic behavior prompted the government to call an emergency meeting of mayors of metropolitan Manila to warn them to prepare. Manila is north of the path that Haiyan took.

Given the country's experience with Haiyan, which caught people unprepared to deal with ts ferocity, authorities seemed better positioned this time to respond to the impending crisis.

Officials in central Philippine regions, which were hammered by Haiyan, evacuated thousands of people to safer areas, including Tacloban city, where the new typhoon has triggered panic-buying in grocery stores and gas stations and brought back nightmares of last year's deadly onslaught.

Haiyan survivor Emily Sagales said many of her still-edgy neighbors in Tacloban packed their clothes and fled to a sports stadium and safer homes of relatives. Long lines formed at grocery stores and gas stations as residents stocked up on basic goods, she said.

Haiyan demolished about 1 million houses and displaced some 4 million people in the central Philippines. Hundreds of residents still living in tents in Tacloban have been prioritized in an ongoing evacuation.

Hotels in Tacloban, a city of more than 200,000 people still struggling to recover from last year's massive damage, ran out of rooms as wealthier families booked ahead for the weekend.

The government put the military on full alert, workers opened evacuation centers and transported food packs, medicines and body bags to far-flung villages, which could be cut off by heavy rains.

In Manila, President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday led an emergency meeting of disaster-response agencies and ordered steps to prevent panic-buying and hoarding of goods.

The government decided to move the venue of a meeting next week of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which was to be attended by hundreds of diplomats from 21 member economies, from Albay province, which could be lashed by the typhoon, to the capital, Manila, which forecasters said on Thursday will likely be spared.


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