Hundreds of wary residents fled coastal villages as emergency officials prepared for a powerful typhoon roaring toward the northeastern Philippines on Sunday.
Typhoon Megi, the strongest of 10 storms so far to have affected the country this year, had sustained winds of 121 miles (195 kilometers) per hour and gusts of 142 mph (230 kph). Forecasters said it could hit Cagayan province Monday morning.
Thousands of military reserve officers and volunteers were on standby, along with helicopters, including six Chinooks that were committed by U.S. troops holding war exercises with Filipino soldiers near Manila, said Benito Ramos, a top disaster-response official.
Rescue boats and thousands of food packs have been pre-positioned near vulnerable areas, he said, adding that schools along the typhoon’s path would be closed.
The weather bureau has warned fishermen and travelers to stay out of harm’s way.
“This is like preparing for war,” Ramos, a retired army general, told The Associated Press. “We know the past lessons and we’re aiming for zero casualties.”
An angry President Benigno Aquino III fired the head of the weather bureau in July for failing to predict that a typhoon would hit Manila. More than 100 people were killed in Manila and outlying provinces by that storm.
Authorities planned to start evacuating residents Sunday in and near areas where storm surges, flooding and landslides could happen. At least 700 moved out of their homes to safer ground Saturday in mountainous Isabela province, Ramos said.
In nearby Cagayan, a vast agricultural valley crisscrossed by rivers and creeks, authorities have ordered villagers to move out of high-risk neighborhoods in 12 coastal towns.
“If nobody will budge, we may carry out forced evacuations,” said Bonifacio Cuarteros of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management office.
Farmers in Cagayan, a rice- and tobacco-producing region of more than 1 million people about 250 miles (400 kilometers) northeast of Manila, have been warned to harvest as much of their crops as possible before Typhoon Megi hits or risk losses, Cuarteros said, adding the typhoon would hit amid the harvest season.
Megi is a South Korean word that means catfish.
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