|The typhoon was expected to make landfall in the northern Philippines on Monday [Reuters]
Typhoon Megi has gathered strength as it barrels towards the northern Philippines, prompting authorities to evacuate thousands of villagers to safer ground.
State weather forecasters said Megi had developed into a super typhoon and was set to hit the extreme northern Philippines on Monday before cutting westwards towards the South China Sea.
It was later expected to hit China, becoming the strongest typhoon this year to make landfall in the country, and prompting the weather agency to issue its second-highest level of alert, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Megi could trigger landslides and cause storm surges in coastal areas, Philippine authorities said, as they began evacuating vulnerable communities.
On Sunday afternoon, it was already 450km east of the northern province of Cagayanas, the state weather bureau said.
The storm was packing maximum winds of 195kph near the centre and gusts of up to 230kph, making it a super typhoon, forecasters said.
"Some are still gauging the situation, but those who are living in low areas have voluntarily gone to higher ground," Benito Ramos, the head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said.
He said thousands of people had already been temporarily relocated from communities along the Cagayan river system, which had overflowed during previous typhoons.
Benigno Aquino, the Philippines' president, ordered all government agencies to be on high alert to prevent casualties, while the coast guard was instructed to ban all fishing vessels from setting off to sea in the north.
"The president is reiterating that all agencies concerned should be ready for the approaching super typhoon Juan [Megi]," Abigail Valte, a deputy spokeswoman for Aquino, said.
She warned the public against complacency, amid reports that the weather in some northern provinces remained clear as of early Sunday.
Norma Talosig, the regional chief of the Office of Civil Defence, said the government was not ruling out forced evacuation for those who refused to leave their homes despite being told to do so.
"If we have to conduct forced evacuations, we'll do it for their safety," Talosig said on national radio.
"Our main objective is the safety of the community, the safety of the responders."
In the capital, Manila, disaster officials said food packs, medicine and rescue equipment, including rubber boats, were ready in areas expected to be lashed by the typhoon.
Agrimero Cruz, the national police spokesman senior superintendent, said additional search and rescue teams from Manila were en route to the north to bolster forces there.
"We have also declared a full alert status all over the country," Cruz said.
|Search and rescue teams from Manila were send to bolster forces in the north of the Philippines [AFP]
The Philippines is battered by an average of 20 typhoons a year, some of them deadly.
Tropical Storm Ketsana and Typhoon Parma struck the northern Philippine island of Luzon within a week of each other in September and October last year, triggering the worst flooding in recent history.
The twin storms killed more than 1,000 people, affected nearly 10 million and caused damage to $4.3bn of infrastructure and property, according to the World Bank and international humanitarian agencies.
The US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Centre in its latest advisory on Sunday said Megi had undergone "rapid intensification", but could weaken as it moves across mountainous terrain after hitting Luzon.
Megi would then begin to steadily reintensify as it leaves the country heading for the South China Sea, it said.
China meanwhile warned its vessels to take shelter in ports and urged local authorities to prepare for emergencies caused by wind and rain, Xinhua said.