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Philippines typhoon: thousands flee as Christmas Day storm barrels down

Typhoon Nock-ten is forecast to make landfall in the Philippines on Christmas Day. Photograph: Francis R. Malasig/EPA

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Philippines typhoon: thousands flee as Christmas Day storm barrels down

Powerful typhoon Nina threatens an area populated by nearly 42 million people, including the capital Manila

Thousands of residents were fleeing coastal and other hazardous areas in the eastern Philippines on Sunday as a powerful typhoon barrelled towards the disaster-prone archipelago.

Officials warned 2.5-metre (eight feet) high waves and landslides posed the biggest threats as typhoon Nina (also known as Nock-ten) closed in on the Bicol peninsula and nearby islands.

“We went around with megaphones and gave instructions to our people to eat breakfast, pack and board the military trucks,” said Alberto Lindo, an official of Alcala, a farming village of 3,300 people near the active Mayon volcano.

“There are large ash deposits on the slopes. Heavy rain can dislodge them and bury our homes in mud.”

Typhoon Nina packed maximum sustained winds of 185km/h (114 mph) and gusts of up to 255km/h (158 mph), and was expected to smash into the island province of Catanduanes on Sunday night.

It was then forecast to blow westward across the southern portion of the main Luzon island and pass close to the capital, Manila, on Monday, before exiting into the South China Sea. Nina may weaken after landfall and hitting the Sierra Madre mountain range in southern Luzon.

The typhoon will affect an area populated by nearly 42 million people. Civil defence officials in Bicol said earlier nearly half a million people in the region were in harm’s way and needed to be evacuated.

The government called for preemptive evacuations on Friday, with nearly 4,000 residents moving into emergency centres and more than 8,000 others seeking shelter elsewhere, according to an official tally.

Evacuations were continuing early on Christmas Day with trucks provided by the military as well as local governments sent to coastal communities and other areas that have been hit by landslides or flash floods in previous storms.

Nina, which will arrive outside the normal typhoon season, disrupted the celebration of one of the most important holidays in the mainly Catholic country’s religious calendar, with all ferry services and some commercial flights suspended.

Some of the thousands of commuters stranded at dozens of Bicol ports that were closed for the typhoon spent the night inside evacuation centres on Friday.

Officials struggled to divert people’s attention from family celebrations and travel. A provincial governor offered roasted pigs to entice villagers to move to emergency shelters.

Governor Miguel Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, which is on the typhoon’s forecast path, offered roast pigs, a popular Christmas delicacy locally called “lechon”, in evacuation centres to entice villagers to move to emergency shelters.

“I know it’s Christmas … but this is a legit typhoon,” Villafuerte tweeted on Christmas Eve. “Please evacuate, we’ll be having lechon at evacuation centres.”

Camarines Sur officials targeted about 250,000 people for evacuation by Saturday night, but the number of those who responded was far below expectations.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development, which helps oversee government response during disasters, said only about 4,200 people were reported to have moved to six evacuation centres by Sunday morning in the Bicol region that includes Camarines Sur.

Elsewhere, the coastguard on Sunday ordered the beaches south of Manila to be cleared of holidaymakers by Monday.

“All forms of recreational activity [on the coasts] will be banned,” coastguard spokesman Armando Balilo told local broadcaster ABS-CBN television.

He said residents of seaside slums in Manila have also been warned to leave their homes.

Storm surges devastated the city of Tacloban and nearby areas when super typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines in November 2013, leaving 7,350 people dead or missing and displacing more than five million others.

An average of 20 storms and typhoons strike the Philippines each year, routinely killing hundreds of people. In an impoverished nation of more than 100 million people, where many live near the coast and on and around mountains and volcanoes, deadly natural catastrophes are a part of life.

In the past 65 years, seven typhoons have struck the Philippines on Christmas Day, according to the government’s weather agency.

source: The Guardian

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