World's strongest typhoon approaching Philippines
Cancelled flights, mass evacuations and school closures as typhoon set to hit today
The world's most powerful typhoon of the year gained strength as it swirled towards the Philippines, forcing mass evacuations, flight cancellations and school suspensions across the disaster-weary nation.
President Benigno Aquino called on his countrymen to make all possible preparations for Typhoon Haiyan, which was packing winds of over 330km/h and set to hit this morning.
"To our local officials, your constituents are facing a serious peril. Let us do all we can while [Haiyan] has not yet hit land," Aquino said in a nationally televised address. "We can minimise the effects of this typhoon if we help each other. Let us remain calm, especially in buying our primary needs, and in moving to safer places."
Aquino warned areas within the expected 600-kilometre typhoon front would be exposed to severe flooding and devastating winds, while coastal areas might see waves six metres high.
Haiyan was expected to make landfall on Samar island, about 600 kilometres southeast of Manila, then cut across the central and southern Philippines before exiting into the South China Sea late on Saturday.
Watch: How typhoons are formed
State weather forecaster Glaize Escullar said Haiyan was expected to hit areas still recovering from a devastating storm in 2011 and from a 7.1-magnitude quake last month. They include the central island of Bohol, epicentre of the quake that killed 222 people, where at least 5,000 survivors are still living in tents while waiting for new homes.
Authorities said the evacuations were taking place in many other towns and villages in Haiyan's path, while schools were closed, ferry services suspended and fishermen were ordered to secure their vessels.
Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and other carriers announced the suspension of hundreds of flights, mostly domestic but also some international.
Haiyan had maximum sustained winds on Thursday afternoon of 278km/h, and gusts of 333km/h, according to the US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Centre. This made it the world's strongest typhoon this year, said David Michael Padua, a meteorologist with the Weather Philippines Foundation, a storm monitoring organisation.
The Philippines endured the world's strongest storm of 2012, when Typhoon Bopha left about 2,000 people dead or missing on Mindanao island in December.