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By JIM GOMEZ (Associated Press)
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine officials began evacuating thousands of villagers, shut down schools and offices and imposed a no-sail ban Monday as Typhoon Mawar approached the country’s northern provinces a week after battering the U.S. territory of Guam.
The typhoon is packing maximum sustained winds of 155 kpm (96 mph) and gusts of up to 190 kph (118 mph) but is forecast to spare the northern mountainous region a direct hit. Current projections show the typhoon veering northeast by mid-week toward Taiwan or southern Japan.
Authorities warned of dangerous tidal surges, flash floods and landslides as it blows past Cagayan and the northernmost province of Batanes from Tuesday to Wednesday. Gusty winds lashed eastern villages of Cagayan on Monday, causing an old and unoccupied warehouse in a wharf to collapse and prompting more villagers to move to evacuation centers.
Nearly 5,000 people have sought shelter in Cagayan, Batanes and other provinces, said Assistant Secretary Raffy Alejandro of the Office of Civil Defense. He said the number was expected to rise given the precautionary evacuations that were underway in flood- and landslide-prone regions.
Classes and office work, except those involved in disaster-preparedness, have been suspended. Flights to and from the provinces have been canceled and fishing and passenger vessels prohibited from sailing. In at least one province, officials imposed a liquor ban.
“Even if the sun is up, the weather is so unpredictable nowadays and could change anytime so we should always stay on the side of safety,” Alejandro told The Associated Press. “We’re talking here of potential threats to lives.”
Mawar tore through Guam last week as the strongest typhoon to hit the U.S. Pacific territory in over two decades, flipping cars, tearing off roofs and knocking down power.
“These typhoons, earthquakes and natural calamities have been a part of our lives,” Batanes Vice Gov. Ignacio Villa told the AP by telephone. “We cannot afford not to prepare because that would potentially mean the loss of lives and major damage.”
Army troops, police, firefighters and volunteer groups were standing by for search and rescue operations and more than a million food packs have been prepared for any contingency, officials said.
Villa said the local government lent ropes to villagers in high-risk communities to strengthen their houses as the typhoon approached. Batanes, a chain of islands with about 19,000 people, has been experiencing nightly power outages in recent days because a tanker ship carrying fuel for its power generators had taken shelter from the approaching typhoon.
While the typhoon was threatening mostly the country’s northern provinces, government forecasters said it could enhance monsoon rains in other regions farther south, including the capital, Manila, and in the central Philippines.
About 20 typhoons and storms each year batter the Philippine archipelago, which also lies on seismic faults where volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur, making the Southeast Asian nation one of the world’s most disaster-prone.
In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, flattened entire villages, swept ships inland, demolished about a million shanties and houses and displaced more than 5 million in one of the country’s poorest regions in the central Philippines.
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