Philippines on alert for Typhoon Durian

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MANILA, Philippines (Reuters) — The Philippines raised its highest alert level and warned residents to move to higher ground on Wednesday as Typhoon Durian barrelled towards the north of the country, gaining strength on a path towards Manila.

Disaster officials warned of possible flash floods, landslides and storm surges of up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) from Durian, the fourth typhoon to hit the Southeast Asian archipelago in three months.

Schools in Manila and surrounding provinces were suspended and all sea travel was halted as residents braced for Durian to hit the eastern island of Catanduanes on Thursday morning en route towards the densely-populated northern island of Luzon.

Durian, named after a pungent fruit, was packing winds of up to 190 kph (120 mph) with gusts of up to 225 kph (140 mph) but the weather bureau said it was likely to weaken when it reaches land.

If the storm continues on its current path, it could sweep close to Manila on Friday morning. The sprawling capital of 12 million people was severely battered by Typhoon Xangsane in late September.

Luzon, where Manila is based, is the country’s business hub and the main growing area for rice and coconuts.

“All governors have convened their disaster coordinating councils and have stockpiled medicines and food. Their heavy equipment and rescue teams are already on standby,” Anthony Golez, deputy administrator of the Office of the Civil Defense, said.

Two other typhoons, Cimaron and Chebi, hit the country in late October and early November, causing landslides and flashfloods in some areas and widespread crop damage.

Storms regularly hit the Philippines. In the worst disaster in recent years, more than 5,000 people died on the central island of Leyte in 1991 in floods triggered by a typhoon.

In 2004, a series of storms left about 1,800 people dead or missing, including 480 who were killed when mudslides buried three towns in Quezon, an eastern province.

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Coconut leaves are seen tangled by the strong winds in the town of Rosales in Pangasinan province, as Typhoon Chebi hits the nothern part of the country on November 11. Tropical storm Durian was upgraded to a “super typhoon” as it barreled its way to the eastern Philippines with winds capable of blowing away wooden houses and uprooting trees.(AFP/File/Joel Nito)

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