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Strong winds, rain lash north Philippines as Typhoon Mangkhut nears

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Strong winds and heavy rains lashed the northern Philippines on Friday as Typhoon Mangkhut maintained its strength ahead of landfall, forcing thousands to flee their homes.

Dozens of domestic and international flights were cancelled through Sunday, while 4,000 passengers have been stranded in various ports in the eastern and central Philippines after sea travel was prohibited.

School classes and government work have also been suspended from Friday.

The weather bureau said Mangkhut is the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year, packing maximum sustained winds of 205 km per hour (km/h) and gusts of up to 255 km/h.

It has a 900-km wide rain cloud band.

The typhoon was moving west-north-west at 20 km/h and was projected to make landfall early Saturday in the northern provinces of Cagayan or Isabela, the bureau added.

“All emergency units will be on duty the entire night as the landfall is expected anytime between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.,” said Edgar Posadas, spokesman for the national disaster risk reduction council.

“We can send more help in case we need more hands,” he added.

At least 5.2 million people were expected to be affected by the typhoon, up from an initial estimate of 4.3 million, as the cyclone shifted slightly, according to the council.

The Philippines Red Cross said the number could be as high as 10 million.

More than 800,000 of those residents were most vulnerable and told to prepare to evacuate on Thursday, especially those from coastal communities, amid threats of storm surges of up to 6 metres.

But the number of people heeding the warning was low as of Friday morning, with over 9,000 people so far having moved to evacuation centres, Posadas said.

While the affected areas have experienced similarly strong typhoons in the past, Philippine Red Cross chairman Senator Richard Gordon expressed concern over Mangkhut’s width.

“Mangkhut’s swathe here is wider, so that means a lot of ground will be covered, and it is still very capable of creating a lot of suffering for people,” he said.

The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 cyclones every year, causing floods, landslides and other accidents.

One of the strongest in recent memory, Typhoon Haiyan, hit the country in November 2013, killing more than 6,300 people and displacing more than four million.(dpa/NAN)

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