Thousands in Philippines flee ahead of typhoon

A powerful typhoon barrelled towards the Philippines Monday, prompting nearly 8,000 people to leave their homes in coastal and low-lying areas, officials said.

Typhoon Bopha, packing winds of up to 210 kilometres (130 miles) an hour, is expected to hit the east coast of the major southern island of Mindanao overnight. It is the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year.

President Benigno Aquino said in a meeting with the heads of emergency services broadcast on television that the area is expected to be hit between 4:00-6:00am Tuesday (2000-2200 GMT Monday).

"(Bopha's) destructive potential is no laughing matter. It is expected to be the strongest typhoon to hit our country in 2012. This would bring intense rainfall," he said.

He urged Filipinos potentially in harm's way to heed official warnings and to monitor the government's hourly bulletins on the Internet and other available means.

The centre of the typhoon was expected to hit the Mindanao coastal town of Hinatuan and nearby areas, said Blanche Gobenciong, regional director of the civil defence office in the area.

A total of 7,885 Hinatuan residents have been moved to government shelters ahead of the arrival of the typhoon, she told reporters in a conference call from Mindanao's Butuan city.

Schools have been shut along Mindanao's east coast, while sea travel was banned for the time being, Gobenciong added.

Rescue officials said those living along the coast, flood-prone river valleys, as well as tiny islands off Hinatuan were most at risk.

As of 1000 GMT, the eye of the typhoon was 340 kilometres southeast of Hinatuan, the state weather service said.

After Hinatuan, it was expected to sweep northwest across the central islands.

Aquino said the 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.

The Philippines is battered by about 20 typhoons a year, some of them destructive. Bopha is the sixteenth 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.

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