A powerful typhoon shifted and abruptly gained strength in an “explosive intensification” Sunday as it blew closer to the northeastern Philippines, prompting evacuations from high-risk villages and even the capital, which could be sideswiped by the storm, officials said.
Typhoon Noru was swirling at sea about 115 kilometers (71 miles) east of Infanta town in Quezon province with sustained winds of 195 kilometers (121 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 240 kph (149 mph) at midafternoon. Forecasters expect it to smash into the coast later Sunday.
While blowing toward the archipelago, Noru shifted southward as it was pushed down by a high-pressure area to its north. It gained considerable strength, transforming from a storm that had sustained winds of 85 kph (53 mph) Saturday into a super typhoon just 24 hours later in an “explosive intensification” at sea, Vicente Malano, who heads the country’s weather agency, told The Associated Press.
Thousands of villagers were evacuated — some forcibly — from the typhoon’s path, as well as from mountainside villages prone to landslides and flash floods and in coastal communities that could be hit by tidal surges as high as 3 meters (about 10 feet) in Quezon province, including Polillo island and nearby Aurora province.
“The combined effects of storm surge and high waves breaking along the coast may cause life-threatening and damaging inundation or flooding,” the weather agency warned.
Melchor Avenilla Jr., who heads Quezon’s disaster-response office, said law enforcers were under orders to forcibly move people who refuse to leave their homes.
“But so far we’ve been able to do this by just appealing to people,” Avenilla told The AP by phone from Quezon.
Several provinces and cities, including the densely populated capital Manila, suspended classes and government work Sunday and Monday. The typhoon’s eye could pass about 40 to 50 kilometers (25 to 30 miles) from the Manila metropolis, “which is nearly a direct hit,” Malano said.
Fishing boats and inter-island and cargo ferries were restricted to port as a precaution, the coast guard said, stranding cargo trucks and more than 2,500 passengers in provinces expected to be affected by the typhoon.
More than 30 flights at Manila’s airport, mostly bound for domestic destinations, were canceled.
The typhoon is predicted to barrel through the main Luzon Island overnight before starting to blow away into the South China Sea on Monday, forecasters said.
About 20 storms and typhoons batter the Philippines each year. The archipelago also lies in the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” a region along most of the Pacific Ocean rim where many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur, making the Southeast Asian nation one of the world’s most disaster-prone.
In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest recorded tropical cyclones in the world, left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, flattened entire villages, swept ships inland and displaced more than 5 million in the central Philippines — well to the south of Noru’s path.