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Manila - The Philippines evacuated eastern coastal areas, suspended ferry services and closed schools in parts of its main Luzon island as the strongest storm to hit the country this year intensified as it headed straight towards the capital, Manila.
Parts of the Philippines are still recovering from Typhoon Haiyan, one of the biggest cyclones known to have made landfall anywhere, which killed more than 6 100 people last year, many in tsunami-like sea surges, and left millions homeless.
Typhoon Rammasun, with gusts of up to 160km/h and sustained winds of 130km/h near its centre, was expected to make landfall over the eastern provinces of Albay and Sorsogon later on Tuesday.
Tropical Storm Risk described Rammasun, expected to bring moderate to intense rainfall of up to 20mm per hour within its 500km radius, as a category-one typhoon, on a scale of one to five of which five is the most severe.
It is the strongest storm to threaten the country since Haiyan, a category-five “super typhoon”, wiped out nearly everything in its path when it crossed the central Philippines in November.
Rammasun was expected to bring storm surges of up to three metres in coastal villages, the weather bureau said.
On its current path, the storm would also be the first in about four years to score a direct hit on Manila, the weather bureau said.
The storm will pass north of Eastern Samar and Leyte, the provinces worst hit by Haiyan, where some residents are still living in tents due to slow recovery efforts. Those areas may see heavy rain and strong winds.
Albay province ordered the evacuation of low-lying and coastal areas, as well as landslide-prone villages.
“We sought the assistance of the Philippine army to enforce mandatory evacuations,” Governor Miguel Villafuerte of nearby Camarines Sur, one of the provinces which Rammasun could hit, said in a radio interview.
Despite warnings, many residents were reluctant to leave home.
“We are prepared for the worst,” said 67-year-old Rosemarie Poblete of Tobaco City in Albay, whose family of four lives near a river swollen by heavy rain early on Tuesday.
“We bought extra food and candles and are ready for any emergency,” she told Reuters.
Schools will be closed on Wednesday in some areas including Manila.
The government has been placed on full alert and has intensified preparations in the hope of avoiding casualties, said Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma. - Reuters