Philippines faces 'most damaging typhoon': forecaster

Typhoon Sarika headed for the archipelago's heavily-populated main island, officials warn

MANILA: The Philippines faces what could be "the most damaging" storm this year as Typhoon Sarika headed for the archipelago's heavily-populated main island, officials said Saturday.

Sarika, packing maximum winds of 180 kilometres (112 miles) per hour, has already knocked out all power and telephone lines on the eastern island of Catanduanes, the civil defence office said.

While the storm is not the most powerful to hit the country this year, it could cause the most damage as it will cross heavily-populated areas just north of Manila, said government weather forecaster Benison Estareja.

"We can see from the radar that the storm is very destructive. It can destroy wooden houses, it can topple trees. It can possibly rip off roofs," he told AFP.

"This could so far, be the most damaging typhoon this year," Estareja said.

Sarika is forecast to hit the province of Aurora on the east coast of the main island of Luzon before dawn Sunday, he said.

It is expected to cross central Luzon before heading out to sea by Sunday evening, he added.

"This one will have an impact because most of the people are in (that part of) Luzon. Even Metropolitan Manila will be affected," he warned.

These areas will experience strong winds and heavy rains, with coastal areas at risk of storm surges of upt to two metres (more than six feet), the forecaster said.

Low-lying areas will be at risk of flooding while mountainous areas could suffer landslides.

Although the storm did not hit the eastern region of Bicol, that area experienced heavy rains as it passed nearby on Saturday, said civil defence spokeswoman Rachel Miranda.

It left the more than 246,000 residents of Catanduanes island without electricity and telephone lines, she told AFP.

More than 400 people were evacuated from their homes and sea and air travel in these areas has been suspended as a safety precaution, officials said.

The Philippine islands are often the first major landmass to be hit by storms that generate over the Pacific Ocean. The Southeast Asian archipelago endures about 20 major storms each year, many of them deadly.

Haiyan, the strongest typhoon ever recorded to hit land, smashed into the central Philippines on November 8, 2013, leaving 7,350 people dead or missing.