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Millions on alert as super typhoon hits Philippines
[MANILA] Millions of people in the Philippines were on high alert Wednesday as one of the strongest typhoons ever hit the disaster-battered country with authorities warning of giant storm surges and destructive winds.
Super Typhoon Haima hit the northern province of Cagayan at about 11pm (1500 GMT) Wednesday, bringing strong winds and heavy rains almost on a par with catastrophic Super Typhoon Haiyan which claimed more than 7,350 lives in 2013.
"We only pray we be spared the destruction such as the previous times, which brought agony and suffering," President Rodrigo Duterte said in Beijing, where he is currently on a four-day visit.
"But we are ready. Everything has been deployed."
Haima has a weather band of 800 kilometres (500 miles) putting more than 10 million people across the northern parts of the Philippines' main island of Luzon within its reach, according to the government's disaster risk management agency.
The storm struck the Philippines with sustained winds of 225 kilometres an hour and gusts of 315 kilometres an hour, state weather forecaster Gener Quitlong said.
It is expected to move westward on through the mountainous northern end of the main Philippine island of Luzon and will exit the landmass by Thursday, he told AFP. It is then expected to track towards southern China.
Civil Defence chief Ricardo Jalad said all areas in the storm's path had undergone pre-emptive evacuation although he could not give an estimate on how many had fled.
"We are expecting that there will be damages to light structures," as well as danger from possible floods and landslides, Mr Jalad told radio station DZMM.
Authorities warned coastal communities to expect storm surges of five metres (16 feet) or higher.
"It's already started. The wind is strong, the waves are big," said Julie Hermano, manager of a small resort in Santa Ana, a coastal town of about 30,000 people that is in the typhoon's direct path.
"Some residents have been panic-buying food in markets because we were told it's going to be a super typhoon. We've already tied down our water tank and prepared our (power) generator set."
The Philippine islands are often the first major landmass to be hit by storms that generate over the Pacific Ocean. The South-east Asian archipelago endures about 20 major storms each year, many of them deadly.
The most powerful and deadliest was Haiyan, which destroyed entire towns in heavily populated areas of the central Philippines.
"We are possibly dealing with a typhoon that is even stronger than Typhoon Yolanda (as Haiyan was known in the Philippines) in 2013. We must therefore brace ourselves for the possible effects of a typhoon of this magnitude," government executive secretary Salvador Medialdea said in a statement.
"We call on all government agencies to be on highest level of preparedness and to take all necessary precautions."
In the northern regions expected to be worst hit, tens of thousands of people sought refuge in schools and other makeshift evacuation centres as authorities raised the highest "signal five" typhoon alert.
Flights to the north were also suspended and schools were closed.
Power to some areas was cut off late on Wednesday as strong winds heralding Haima's landfall brought down electricity lines.
The Philippine capital of Manila is about 350 kilometres south of where Haima struck land.
Authorities said the city, with about 12 million people, was not expected to be badly affected although it would experience some rain.
Haima is the second typhoon to hit the northern Philippines in a week, after Sarika struck on Sunday claiming at least one life and leaving three people missing.