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Philippine authorities prepare for typhoon Koppu

People using banners to protect themselves during a downpour in front of the Election Commission office in Manila on Oct 16.

[MANILA] Philippine authorities cancelled flights and urged residents and tourists to move to safer ground on Saturday as a powerful typhoon approached northeastern parts of the main island of Luzon.

With winds of up to 160 kph (99 mph), typhoon Koppu is about 300 km (185 miles) east of Baler in Aurora province, moving west and due to make landfall in the next 12 to 18 hours.

Disaster agency officials said about 300 hundred people living in vulnerable coastal or low-lying areas had already sought shelter due to the risk of floods, landslides and storm surges of up to 2 metres (6.5 ft). "We are asking 2,000 foreign and local tourists, most of them surfers, to abandon seaside resorts and go to safer areas,"Gabriel Llave, a Baler municipal disaster official, told radio station dzMM.

Rain had already started in Manila though winds are not expected to be strong enough in the capital to cause damage.

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The weather bureau said ferries and fishing boats should also seek shelter or stay in port with a risk of the storm generating large sea swells.

AccuWeather, a weather information provider, said Koppu could drench large areas of rice-growing Luzon with between 300 to 600 mm (12 to 24 inches) of rain and cause life-threatening flooding and mudslides.

Airport authorities have grounded 14 domestic flights, while the Coast Guard has suspended a search for a missing yacht with four on board in the South China Sea.

On Friday, President Benigno Aquino appealed on television to people not to panic and to make preparations. The last time Aquino made a televised appeal was in 2013, the day before super typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines, killing more than 6,300 people and leaving millions homeless.

An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year.