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Powerful Typhoon Nock-Ten slams into Philippines

A powerful typhoon slammed into the eastern Philippines on Christmas Day, spoiling the biggest holiday in Asia's largest Catholic nation.

A governor had offered roast pig to entice villagers to abandon family celebrations for emergency shelters.

Typhoon Nock-Ten was packing maximum sustained winds of 114 miles per hour and gusts of up to 158 mph when it made landfall Sunday Catanduanes province, where fierce winds and rain knocked down the island's power and communications, weather forecasters said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

After Catanduanes, the typhoon, which had a 300-mile rain band, was expected to barge westward across the mountainous southern plank of the Philippines' main island of Luzon and blow close to the capital, Manila, on Monday, before starting to exit toward the South China Sea.

Nock-Ten may weaken after 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, stranding thousands of people in ports as airlines cancelled flights and ferries were prevented from sailing.

Officials warned of storm surges in coastal villages, flash floods and landslides, and asked villagers to evacuate to safer grounds.

Christmas is the biggest holiday in the Philippines, which has Asia's largest Roman Catholic population, making it difficult for officials to get people's attention to heed the warnings.

With many refusing to leave high-risk communities, some officials said they decided to carry out forced evacuations.

In the past 65 years, seven typhoons have struck the Philippines on Christmas Day, according to the government's weather agency.

Governor Miguel Villafuerte of Camarines Sur province, which is in the typhoon's expected path, offered roast pig, a popular Christmas delicacy locally called "lechon", in evacuation centres to entice villagers to move to emergency shelters.

"I know it's Christmas ... but this is a legit typhoon," he tweeted on Christmas Eve. "Please evacuate, we'll be having lechon at evacuation centres."

Camarines Sur officials had targeted about 50,000 families - some 250,000 people - for evacuation by Saturday night, but the number of those who responded was initially far below expectations.

In Catanduanes province, vice governor Shirley Abundo said she ordered a forced evacuation of villagers, saying some "are really hard-headed, they don't want to leave their houses because it's Christmas".

"We need to do this by force, we need to evacuate them now," she told ABS-CBN television.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development, which helps oversee government response during disasters, said only about 4,200 people were reported to have moved to six evacuation centres by Sunday morning in the Bicol region, which includes Camarines Sur.

"It's difficult to force celebrations when our lives will be put at risk. Please prioritise safety and take heed of warnings by local government units," welfare official Felino Castro told The Associated Press.

Food, water and other emergency supplies had been pre-positioned in areas expected to be lashed by the typhoon, Castro said. His department was to activate an emergency cluster comprising the military, police, coast guard and other agencies Sunday to oversee disaster-response plans.

In the farming town of Guinobatan in Albay province, which is near Nock-Ten's path, more than 17,600 villagers moved to evacuation shelters without hesitation because of fears of a repeat of a typhoon several years ago that unleashed smouldering mudflows from nearby Mayon Volcano, leaving hundreds dead, the town's mayor, Ann Ongjoco, said.

About 20 typhoons and storms, mostly from the Pacific, lash the Philippines each year, making the poor country of more than 100 million people one of the most disaster-prone in the world.

In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines with ferocious power, leaving more than 7,300 people dead or missing and displacing more than five million after levelling entire villages despite days of dire warnings by government officials.

AP

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