Philippines Brace for Powerful Typhoons, Thousands Evacuated

Officials stepped up the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from coastal villages and riversides Friday as a powerful typhoon stalled off the eastern Philippines.

Typhoon Mitag was "stationary" 125 miles east of the island province of Catanduanes in the Bicol region, said Prisco Nilo, the head of the country's weather bureau. The storm was packing winds of 109 mph and gusts of 131 mph.

Nilo told President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and other officials that the typhoon "appears to have not moved," making it difficult to predict its direction. But he said "the most logical" direction the storm would take was toward Bicol, making landfall Saturday on Catanduanes.

He warned of storm surges and a rise in the sea level in areas directly affected by the typhoon and heavy rains and strong winds elsewhere.

Philippine disaster officials said more than 194,000 people have fled or been evacuated to temporary shelters in Albay, Sorsogon, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte and Catanduanes provinces on the southern tip of the main Philippine island of Luzon.

Philippine forecasters said Mitag could intensify into a "super typhoon" with more than 138 mph winds.

Chief government forecaster Nathaniel Cruz said a powerful but slow-moving typhoon could wreak more havoc than one that passes quickly.

"The end result is that more things will be blown down and destroyed," he said.

In Vietnam, officials began evacuating 200,000 people as Typhoon Hagibis headed to the country after leaving 13 people dead in the Philippines earlier this week.

Hagibis was packing 83 mph winds and was expected to make landfall Saturday on Vietnam's southern coast.

In the South China Sea, 25 Filipino sailors were missing after a their fishing boat capsized in rough seas, a Chinese maritime official said Friday. Thirty other crew members were rescued and search teams were dispatched to look for the missing, said a man at the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center who gave only his surname, Zhang.

Catanduanes Gov. Joseph Cua said constant rains triggered landslides, blocking the main highway and isolating six northern towns. The main Bato river also was rising, he said.

He has directed the mayor of one isolated town to distribute about 800 110-pound sacks of rice from a government warehouse in case food runs short while the town is inaccessible.

Several flights to the region from Manila were canceled.

In Manila, workers started rolling up giant roadside tarpaulin billboards on steel frames to prevent them from being toppled by strong winds.

Arroyo, concerned about a repeat of last year's disaster in Bicol, ordered mass evacuations along the typhoon's expected path. She cut short her visit to Singapore, where she was attending an Asian summit.

Cruz, the weather forecaster, said after slamming into Catanduanes, the typhoon could veer slightly southwest and hit Albay province, which bore the brunt of last year's Typhoon Durian. That typhoon triggered flash floods and unleashed tons of debris, killing more than 1,000 people.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda has suspended classes so some schools can be used as shelters. The provincial government mobilized military and police trucks to transport residents to evacuation centers.

He said the "pre-emptive evacuation" would prevent more difficult rescue work at the height of the typhoon.

"The order of the president is zero casualty," he told DZRH radio Friday. "We are ordering the evacuation of the eastern seaboard. This is a huge population."

He said those who refuse to evacuate will be asked to sign a waiver.