Thousands of people in the Philippines have sought shelter in churches, schools and other makeshift evacuation centres as Typhoon Hagupit bore down on the disaster-weary nation.
Communities in the eastern Philippines that are yet to recover from Haiyan, the most powerful storm ever recorded on land which killed more than 7,350 people in November last year, were warned on Friday that they could be among the first hit.
The storm, which would be the strongest to hit the Philippines this year, is forecast to make landfall later on Saturday, although there are conflicting projections from various weather agencies over its direct path.
People across the Southeast Asian archipelago were heeding government warnings to make early preparations as the state weather agency Pagasa said the typhoon was expected to generate winds of 215 kilometres (133 miles) an hour and giant storm surges.
The US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center, however, downgraded Hagupit from the maximum super typhoon category to typhoon status, reporting its wind strength had weakened from Haiyan-like 300 kilometres an hour to about 230 kilometres an hour.
The agency predicted it would travel slightly north, then cut west and pass directly over Manila, the nation’s capital with a population of more than 12 million people.
Al Jazeera’s Jason Gutierrez, who is reporting from Manila, quoted local and international forecasters as saying that the typhoon’s movement had been “very erratic.”
In Tacloban, a major city in the central Philippines where many buildings still lie in rubble after being destroyed in Haiyan, hundreds of people sheltered in a sports stadium on Friday.
“We’ve learned our lesson from Yolanda (Haiyan),” Rita Villadolid, 39, told AFP as she sat inside the stadium with her family.
“Everyone here is gripped with fear.”
Similar preparations were occurring across the country, after the government said Hagupit’s weather pattern was 700 kilometres wide and would affect 55 of the nation’s 85 provinces.
The Philippines is often the first major landmass hit by typhoons and major tropical storms that are created in the Pacific Ocean. It endures about 20 major storms a year, many of them deadly.
Last July, Typhoon Rammasun cut across Manila and other parts of the main island of Luzon, killing more than 100 people.