Powerful typhoon hits north Philippines as thousands evacuated

A powerful typhoon slammed into the north-eastern Philippines on Sunday and was barrelling across the main Luzon island toward the capital in a densely populated path where thousands have been evacuated to safety. Typhoon Noru hit the coastal town of Burdeos on Polillo Island in Quezon province shortly before nightfall. With sustained winds of 195km (121 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 240 kph (149 mph), it was expected to weaken slightly when it hits the Sierra Madre mountain range but will remain dangerously ferocious, forecasters said.

The typhoon gained considerable strength from a storm with sustained winds of 85 kph (53 mph) on Saturday into a super typhoon just 24 hours later in an "explosive intensification" over the open sea, Vicente Malano, who heads the country's weather agency, told The Associated Press. Thousands of villagers were evacuated from the typhoon's path, as well as from mountainside villages prone to landslides and flash floods.

Philippines TyphoonRains start to pour as Typhoon Noru approaches Manila, Philippines (Aaron Favila/AP)

Coastal communities could be hit by tidal surges as high as three metres (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.

In Manila's seaside district of Tondo, some residents left their homes with bags of belongings and hurriedly walked to a nearby evacuation centre as the sky darkened and rains started to fall. 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 told AP by phone: "So far we've been able to do this by just appealing to people." Several provinces and cities, including the densely populated capital Manila, suspended classes and government work on Sunday and Monday.

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. More than 30 flights at Manila's airport, mostly bound for domestic destinations, were cancelled. The typhoon is forecast to sweep through the main Luzon Island overnight and into the South China Sea on Monday.

It is on track to hit Vietnam later in the week still maintaining its powerful winds. 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 five million in the central Philippines -- well to the south of Noru's path.