Philippines warns that Typhoon Koppu could linger for days

People using banners to protect themselves during a downpour in front of the Election Commission office in Manila on Oct 16.
People using banners to protect themselves during a downpour in front of the Election Commission office in Manila on Oct 16. PHOTO: EPA

MANILA (AFP/REUTERS) - The Philippine authorities on Saturday (Oct 17) warned that a powerful typhoon will likely linger over the country for almost three days, bringing prolonged heavy rain, possible floods and sparking storm surges.

Typhoon Koppu, possibly the second-most powerful storm to strike the disaster-prone country this year, is expected to make landfall early on Sunday and will not leave the archipelago until Tuesday, the government weather station said.

Weather station director Espie Cayanan said the storm, which has sustained winds of 160 kmh and gusts of 195 kmh, could strengthen as it gets closer to the country.

Due to its interaction with another nearby weather disturbance, Typhoon Koppu may move slowly across the northern end of the main Philippine island of Luzon, she warned.

"It may be semi-stationary once it hits," Mr Cayanan told reporters.

The typhoon, moving at 10 kmh, is expected to make landfall in the northeastern province of Aurora before curving north over Luzon and eventually moving out to sea, she added.

Although the storm will not directly hit the capital, Manila, Mr Cayanan warned that its diameter was so huge that even the southern regions were likely to be affected by strong winds and rain.

Areas hit by the typhoon will suffer "heavy to intense rainfall" with possible tsunami-like storm surges in coastal areas.

Philippine authorities cancelled flights and urged residents and tourists to move to safer ground on Saturday.

Civil defence officials warned that waves as high as 14m could occur at sea and banned all vessels from sailing in over half the country.

They also warned of possible floods in river basins and urged residents to heed orders to evacuate ahead of any incident.

"If you are told you need to evacuate, then we appeal to you to evacuate," civil defence chief Alexander Pama said.

He also urged the public to cancel any travel plans over the weekend.

Disaster agency officials said about 300 people living in vulnerable coastal or low-lying areas had already sought shelter due to the risk of floods, landslides and storm surges of up to 2m.

"We are asking 2,000 foreign and local tourists, most of them surfers, to abandon seaside resorts and go to safer areas," Mr Gabriel Llave, a Baler municipal disaster official, told radio station dzMM.

Officials said residents in the storm's path were already evacuating coastal and riverside areas although they did not give exact figures.

Special government units are contacting towns that may be vulnerable to the storm to ensure they are prepared for the storm, the officials said.

The weather bureau said ferries and fishing boats should also seek shelter or stay in port with a risk of the storm generating large sea swells.

AccuWeather, a weather information provider, said Koppu could drench large areas of rice-growing Luzon with between 300 to 600mm of rain and cause life-threatening flooding and mudslides.

Airport authorities have grounded 14 domestic flights, while the Coast Guard has suspended a search for a missing yacht with four on board in the South China Sea.

On Friday, President Benigno Aquino appealed on television to people not to panic and to make preparations.

The last time Mr Aquino made a televised appeal was in 2013, the day before super typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines, killing more than 6,300 people and leaving millions homeless.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino previously warned that Typhoon Koppu could be uniquely destructive because it would bring intense rain over a long period of time.

The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms each year, many of them deadly.