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Fears as typhoon nears Philippines

Villagers are fleeing coastal homes and there is panic-buying in central Philippines as an approaching storm brings back memories of last year's deadly typhoon.

Government forecasters said Typhoon Hagupit, which is packing sustained winds of 195 kilometres (122 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 230kph (143mph), may hit Eastern Samar province on Saturday.

It is expected to barrel inland along the same route where Typhoon Haiyan levelled villages and left more than 7,300 people dead and missing in November last year.

Haiyan survivor Emily Sagales, 23, said many of her still-edgy neighbours in central Tacloban city had packed their clothes and fled to a sports stadium or the safer homes of relatives.

Long queues formed at grocery stores and petrol stations as residents hoarded basic goods, she said.

"The trauma has returned," she said. In the wake of last year's typhoon, which killed her mother-in-law and destroyed her home, she gave birth to a baby girl in a makeshift clinic filled with the injured and dying near Tacloban airport.

"It's worse now because I didn't have a baby to worry about last year," said Ms Sagales.

Haiyan demolished about a million houses and displaced about four million people in the central Philippines. Hundreds of residents still living in tents in Tacloban have been prioritised in the ongoing evacuation this time.

Hotels in Tacloban, which have barely recovered from the massive damage, were running out of rooms as wealthier families booked ahead for the weekend.

"The sun is still shining but people are obviously scared. Almost all of our rooms have been booked," said Roan Florendo of the hilltop Leyte Park hotel.

The government has put the military on full alert, while workers have opened evacuation centres and transported food packs to far-flung villages, which could be cut off by heavy rains.

In Manila, President Benigno Aquino III led an emergency meeting of disaster-response agencies and ordered steps to prevent panic-buying and hoarding of goods.

He checked how many air force C-130 cargo planes were available for possible emergency flights, inquired about the readiness of hospitals and what police plan to do to maintain law and order and prevent the looting that erupted in Tacloban after Haiyan.

The approaching typhoon "presents a challenge but, I think, we've been challenged worse by Yolanda", Mr Aquino told officials, referring to Haiyan's local name.

"I'd like everybody to become a busybody," Mr Aquino said during the nationally televising meeting.

While warning villagers about the danger, he urged officials to avoid causing unnecessary alarm.

As the meeting progressed, Mr Aquino was told that the typhoon has further strengthened. Some towns in Hagupit's predicted path said they will shut schools tomorrow.

Officials have also decided to move a meeting next week of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum - to be attended by hundreds of diplomats from 21 member economies - from Albay province to the capital Manila, which forecasters say will likely be spared.


From Belfast Telegraph