Hundreds of thousands flee their homes in the Philippines as Typoon Hagupit draws near

Officials warn locals to "prepare for the worst" as bad memories of last year's deadly typoon linger

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The Independent Online

More than 600,000 people have fled their homes in the Philippines as a powerful storm is set to batter the country’s eastern coastline within hours.

Typoon Hagupit will hammer many of the same areas of the country where Typoon Haiyan left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in November 2013. ‘Hagupit’ is the Filipino word for ‘smash’ or ‘lash’.

Soldiers have been deployed to supermarkets and major roads in the typhoon's path to prevent looting and clear expected debris left by the whirling band of rain clouds.

The storm is unlikely to reach the strength of last year’s catastrophe, though it is powerful enough to cause storm surges and landslides. It is expected to do serious damage to the country’s agriculture.

Maximum sustained winds are expected to be 109 mph, a slight weakening compared to the storm’s strength a few days ago.

The storm measures about 373 miles across and is edging westwards towards the Philippines at 10mph. It is expected to his late on Saturday in the country, where the local time is GMT+8.

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Typhoon Hagupit on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, as it approaches the Philippines

In the central city of Tacloban, sports stadia and churches were filled with people, doubling as make-shift evacuation centres even before authorities called on people to evacuate.

Locals are being extra cautious because many experienced the pain of last year’s devastation, when the government’s response was criticised.

Typoon Haiyan was one of the most powerful storms ever recorded on the planet.

"We've not heard of villagers resisting to be evacuated," regional disaster-response director Blanche Gobenciong said. "Their trauma is still so fresh."

The situation has been complicated by the fact that the two agencies tracking the typhoon closely — the U.S. military's Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii and the Philippine weather agency — predicted that the storm would move in different directions.

The uncertainty has meant that authorities have spread their resources across a much broader area than they would have liked.

Ms Gobenciong said the storm’s unpredictable path made it harder to ascertain which areas would be hit, but added that everybody "should prepare for the worst."

 "We have a zero-casualty target," she said. "Just one loss of life will really sadden us all and make us wonder what went wrong."

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