MANILA, Philippines – A ferocious and dangerously erratic typhoon blew closer to the Philippines Friday, as differing forecasts about its path — one predicting it will graze the capital Manila — prompted a much wider swath of the country to prepare for a weekend of possibly destructive winds and rain.
Typhoon Hagupit — Filipino for "Smash" — was expected to blast in from the Pacific Ocean into central Philippines, lashing part of the area that was devastated by last year's Typhoon Haiyan that killed more than 7,300 people. Still, the good news was that the typhoon was weakening as it blew closer to the coast.
"I'm scared," said Haiyan survivor Jojo Moro. "I'm praying to God not to let another disaster strike us again. We haven't recovered from the first."
The 42-year-old businessman who lost his wife, daughter and mother last year in central Tacloban city, said he stocked up on sardines, instant noodles, eggs and water.
Hagupit is expected to slam into Eastern Samar province late Saturday, then cut across central islands along a route north. But its path thereafter is debatable.
The computer models of the two agencies tracking the typhoon closely — the U.S. military's Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii and the Philippine weather agency — showed different tracks for the typhoon because of a low pressure area interacting with it.
The U.S. agency said Hagupit (pronounced HA'-goo-pit) may veer just south of the capital Manila, a city of more than 12 million people, while Philippine agency projected a more southern track. But both tracks appeared to be coming closer together as the landfall time approaches.
Also, both agencies said the typhoon is slowly losing strength. The local agency said it is now packing winds of 195 kilometers (121 miles) per hour and gusts of 230 kph (143 mph). The U.S. center in Hawaii downgraded the typhoon's status from a super typhoon and said it was expected to continue losing strength with winds dropping to 175 kph (108 mph) by Sunday morning.
Haunted by the country's ordeal with Haiyan, which caught people unprepared to deal with its ferocity, authorities and villagers seemed readier this time to respond to the impending crisis.
In Tacloban, the central city where Haiyan's tsunami-like storm surges left thousands dead and wiped out entire villages, disaster-response official Blanche Gobenciong said nearly 12,000 residents have so far been moved from high-risk villages to emergency shelters.
"We've not heard of villagers resisting to be evacuated," Gobenciong said. "Their trauma is still so fresh."
Gobenciong said the unpredictable path of the typhoon made it harder to ascertain which areas would be hit.
"We have a zero-casualty target," she said. "Just one loss of life will really sadden us all and make us wonder what went wrong."
"We have alerted the people of Manila and we're ready," Mayor Joseph Estrada said, while acknowledging "these typhoons change direction all the time."
Hagupit's erratic behavior prompted the government to call an emergency meeting of mayors of metropolitan Manila. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said he'd rather "over-prepare than under-prepare."
Haiyan demolished about 1 million houses and displaced some 4 million people in the central Philippines. Hundreds of residents still living in tents in Tacloban have been prioritized in the ongoing evacuation.
Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.