Manila: Survivors of a deadly earthquake fled their tent shelters on Thursday as mass evacuations got under way in the Philippines ahead of a super typhoon that was strengthening in the Pacific Ocean.

Authorities warned Typhoon Haiyan, with wind gusts exceeding 330 kilometres an hour, could cause major damage across a vast area of the central and southern Philippines when it made landfall on Friday.

“This is a very dangerous typhoon, local officials know where the vulnerable areas are and have given instructions on evacuations,” state weather forecaster Glaiza Escullar said.

“There are not too many mountains on its path to deflect the force of impact, making it more dangerous.”

Haiyan had maximum sustained winds on Thursday morning of 278 kilometres per hour, and gusts of 333 kilometres per hour, according to the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Centre.

The Philippines is battered by an average of 20 major storms or typhoons each year, many of them deadly, but Haiyan’s wind strength would make it the strongest for 2013.

The state weather service also warned the typhoon was continuing to intensify.

Escullar said the typhoon, which was advancing with a giant, 600-kilometre front, was expected to hit areas still recovering from a deadly 2011 storm and a 7.1-magnitude quake last month.

They include the central island of Bohol, the epicentre of the earthquake that killed more than 200 people, where a local official said at least 5,000 people were still living in tents while waiting for new homes.

“The provincial governor has ordered local disaster officials to ensure that pre-emptive evacuations are done, both for those living in tents as well as those in flood-prone areas,” the official, Bohol provincial administrator Alfonso Damalerio, said.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council also said local governments had ordered evacuations and class suspensions in low-lying and landslide-prone areas on the southern island of Mindanao.

The region includes the ports of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, where flash floods induced by Tropical Storm Washi killed more than 1,000 people in December 2011.

However, Escullar said Haiyan was likely to spare Mindanao’s southeast, where Typhoon Bopha left about 2,000 people dead or missing in December last year.

Haiyan is set to hit Samar Island, about 600 kilometres southeast of Manila, around 9:00am (0100 GMT) on Friday and cross over to the South China Sea to the north of the island of Palawan late Saturday, Escullar said.

Some of the country’s most popular islands for tourists, including world-famous Boracay as well as Bohol, are in the typhoon’s path.