MANILA • A strong typhoon is expected to hit the Philippines today as millions of people in the predominantly Catholic nation celebrate one of its biggest holidays.
Typhoon Nock-Ten, also called Nina, is likely to be packing winds of up to 240kmh when it makes landfall today, the United States Joint Typhoon Warning Centre said yesterday.
It is then expected to slam into the country's main island of Luzon, including the capital Manila, tomorrow.
In the Bicol region in southern Luzon, thousands of people were stranded yesterday after air and sea transportation came to a halt.
"Our people are being made aware that we could get hit on Christmas Day," said Ms Romina Marasigan, a spokesman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
"The highest levels of preparedness are being undertaken," she said, including stocking up designated evacuation centres with food and other provisions.
Millions of Filipinos are travelling to their hometowns for the festive season. The authorities said it is possible that the storm could brush past Manila after Christmas Day if it maintained its current path.
The main threats are expected to be landslides and flash floods from heavy rain, as well as potentially large waves, known as "storm surges", which can smash through coastal communities, they said.
The Philippines is often the first major landmass to be hit by storms that develop in the Pacific. The South-east Asian country experiences about 20 major storms each year, and many of them are deadly.
The deadliest in recent times was Typhoon Haiyan, which left 7,350 people dead or missing, and destroyed entire towns in heavily populated areas of the central Philippines in November 2013.
Colorado State University meteorologist Philip Klotzbach, speaking from the US where he is based, said Typhoon Nock-Ten is the strongest tropical cyclone to develop this late in the year since at least 2001, when Typhoon Faxai developed.