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MANILA, Philippines – A powerful typhoon is on its way to slam into the eastern Philippines on Christmas Day as officials struggled to divert people's attention from family celebrations and travel. A provincial governor offered roasted pigs to entice villagers to move to emergency shelters.
Typhoon Nock-Ten packed sustained winds of 175 kilometers (108 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 215 kph (133 mph), and was expected to smash into the island province of Catanduanes Sunday night. It's then forecast to blow across the southern portion of the main Luzon island and pass close to the capital, Manila, on Monday, before exiting into the South China Sea. Nock-Ten may weaken after landfall and hitting the Sierra Madre mountain range in southern Luzon.
Heavy rainfall, destructive winds and battering waves were threatening heavily populated rural and urban regions, where the Philippine weather agency raised typhoon warnings. Officials warned of storm surges in coastal villages, flash floods and landslides and asked villagers to evacuate to safer grounds.
But Christmas is the biggest holiday in the country, Asia's bastion of Catholicism, giving officials a hard time getting people's attention away from the holidays to heed the warnings.
In the past 65 years, seven typhoons have struck the Philippines on Christmas Day, according to the government's weather agency.
Gov. Miguel Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, which is on the typhoon's forecast path, offered roast pigs, a popular Christmas delicacy locally called "lechon," in evacuation centers to entice villagers to move away from high-risk communities.
"I know it's Christmas ... but this is a legit typhoon," Villafuerte tweeted on Christmas Eve. "Please evacuate, we'll be having lechon at evacuation centers."
Camarines Sur officials targeted about 50,000 families — some 250,000 people — for evacuation by Saturday night, but the number of those who responded was far below expectations.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development, which helps oversee government response during disasters, said only about 4,200 people have moved to six evacuation centers by Sunday morning in the Bicol region that includes Camarines Sur.
"It's difficult to force celebrations when our lives will be put at risk. Please prioritize safety and take heed of warnings by local government units," welfare official Felino Castro told The Associated Press by telephone.
He said food, water and other emergency supplies had been pre-positioned in areas expected to be lashed by the typhoon, but his department was to hold an emergency meeting with the military, coast guard and other agencies Sunday to discuss disaster-response plans.
About 20 typhoons and storms, mostly from the Pacific, lash the Philippine archipelago each year and provincial governments have long laid down a contingency system to launch war-like logistical preparations each time a major typhoon approaches.
But in an impoverished nation of more than 100 million people, where many live near the coast and on and around mountains and volcanoes, deadly natural catastrophes are a part of life in one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world.
In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines with ferocious power, leaving more than 7,300 people dead and missing and displacing more than 5 million others after leveling entire villages despite days of dire warnings by government officials.