MANILA, Philippines - A powerful typhoon barreled towards the Philippines Monday, prompting authorities to order the immediate evacuation of thousands of people from coastal and low-lying areas, officials said.
Typhoon Pablo (international codename Bopha), packing winds of up to 210 kilometers (130 miles) an hour, is expected to hit a southern fishing village Tuesday morning, making it the strongest typhoon to slam the Philippines this year.
The mayor of Hinatuan has urged the village of 39,000 people to prepare for the worst, ordering those living along the coast, flood-prone river valleys, as well as tiny islands off the village to move to government shelters.
"There is no rain yet but they might start experiencing rain tonight. This will be the strongest typhoon this year," warned Edgardo Ollet, director of the civil defense office in Manila.
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) executive director Benito Ramos said Pablo is expected to make landfall at around 8 am Tuesday morning near Hinatuan town in Surigao del Sur.
Public storm warning signal No. 3 has been hoisted in the following areas:
Surigao del Norte, including Siargao,
Surigao del Sur,
Agusan del Norte,
Agusan del Sur,
Davao del Norte, including Samal Island.
Weather bureau PAGASA said the areas are expected to experience 101-185 kph winds in at least 18 hours.
The other affected areas are as follows:
Public Storm Warning Signal #2: (Winds of 61-100 kph is expected within the next 24 hours)
Visayas: Southern Leyte, Bohol, Southern Cebu, Negros Oriental and Siquijor
Mindanao: Misamis Occidental, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, North Cotabato and Zamboanga del Norte
Public Storm Warning Signal #1: (Winds of 45-60 kph is expected within the next 36 hours)
Luzon: Northern Palawan incl. Calamian Groupr of Islands and Cuyo Island
Visayas: Eastern Samar, Western Samar, Leyte including Biliran, Aklan, Capiz, Antique, Iloilo, Guimaras, Negros Occidental and Rest of Cebu, including Camotes Island
Mindanao: Zamboanga del Sur, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and South Cotabato
PAGASA said estimated rainfall is from 15 to 30 mm per hour (heavy - intense) within the 600 km diameter of the typhoon.
Ramos said that while Central Mindanao may be largely untouched by the typhoon, rainfall in Bukidnon and Lanao del Sur could flood the Polangui River in Maguindanao and go straight to the Liguasan Marsh.
“Apektado ang 17 municipalities around the lake in Liguasan Marsh,” he said.
Authorities have been stockpiling food supplies and rescue equipment, with military and coast guard personnel deployed in vulnerable areas amid fears the typhoon could trigger landslides and floods.
Cagayan de Oro City, which was the worst hit by Sendong last year, suspended classes in the entire city while the city's disaster management officials raised the alert level to code blue, prompting a preemptive evacuation among residents living in areas vulnerable to flooding.
The Hinatuan mayor said he was not sure whether residents were complying with the evacuation orders. Olive Luces, the regional civil defense director, warned local officials not to take the typhoon lightly.
"The weather is good right now but we keep advising local governments not to be complacent because this is going to get worse," she said.
Ramos said he will not order preemptive evacuations in affected areas, saying the responsibility is with the local executives.
“We will not give the order for preemptive evacuation. That is up to the local government. From the national, we will not give the order because that’s up to them,” he said.
He also declined to describe Pablo as being thrice in strength than Sendong, which killed 1,268 people last year.
The Philippines is battered by about 20 typhoons a year, some of them destructive. Bopha is the 16th so far this year.
In August, nearly 100 people were killed and more than a million were displaced by heavy flooding caused by a series of storms.
Nineteen typhoons struck the country last year, of which 10 were destructive, leading to more than 1,500 deaths and affecting nearly 10 percent of the total population, according to the government. -- With Agence France-Presse