Manila, Philippines — A powerful typhoon shifted and abruptly gained strength on Sunday as it swept closer to the northeastern Philippines, prompting evacuations from high-risk villages and the capital that could be swept aside by the storm, officials said.
Typhoon Noru swirled about 115 kilometers (71 miles) east of the city of Infanta in Quezon province with sustained winds of 195 kilometers (121 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 240 km/h (149 mph) over the sea in the afternoon. Forecasters expect it to slam into the coast later on Sunday.
As she raced toward the archipelago, Noru turned south as she was being pushed down by a high pressure area to the north. It gained considerable strength, turning from a storm with sustained 85 km/h (53 mph) winds into a super typhoon with an “explosive intensification” at sea just 24 hours later, said Vicente Malano, who heads the country’s weather agency directs, opposite The Associated Press.
Thousands of villagers were evacuated – some violently – from the typhoon’s path, as well as from mountain villages prone to landslides and flash floods, and in coastal communities that could be hit by tidal waves up to 3 meters (about 10 feet) in Quezon province, including the island of Polillo and the nearby province of Aurora.
“The combined effects of storm surges and high waves breaking along the coast can cause life-threatening and damaging flooding or flooding,” the weather agency warned.
In Manila’s seaside slum neighborhood of Tondo, some residents left their homes with bags full of belongings and hurried to a nearby evacuation center as the sky darkened and rain began to fall.
“The typhoon is strong and we live by the sea,” said 50-year-old Marilen Yubatan, who left her hut with her two young daughters. “If we fall in the water, I don’t know where I’ll end up with my kids.”
Melchor Avenilla Jr., who heads Quezon’s disaster response bureau, said law enforcement agencies have orders to forcibly remove people who refuse to leave their homes. “But so far we’ve only been able to do that by reaching out to people,” Avenilla told AP over the phone.
Several provinces and cities, including the densely populated capital Manila, suspended classes and government work on Sunday and Monday. The typhoon’s eye could be about 40 to 50 kilometers (25 to 30 miles) from metropolitan Manila, “which is almost a direct hit,” Malano said.
Fishing boats, as well as inter-island ferries and cargo, have been restricted to the port as a precaution, the Coast Guard said, stranding trucks and more than 2,500 passengers. More than 30 flights at Manila airport, mostly for domestic destinations, have been cancelled.
The typhoon is expected to sweep through the main island of Luzon overnight and into the South China Sea on Monday. It’s on track to hit Vietnam later in the week while maintaining strong winds.
About 20 storms and typhoons hit the Philippines each year. The archipelago also lies in the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” a region along most of the Pacific Ocean that is prone to many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, making the Southeast Asian nation one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world.
In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan, one of the world’s strongest recorded tropical cyclones, left more than 7,300 dead or missing, leveled entire villages, swept ships inland and displaced more than 5 million people in the central Philippines — far south of Noru way.
Associated Press journalists Joeal Calupitan and Aaron Favila contributed to this report.