- World's strongest typhoon swirls towards Philippines
- Japan putting missiles on Pacific gateway island
- Russian boy seventh victim of Thai ferry accident
MANILA: The world's most powerful typhoon of the year gained strength on Thursday as it swirled towards the Philippines, forcing mass evacuations, flight cancellations and school suspensions across the disaster-weary nation.
President Benigno Aquino called on his countrymen to make all possible preparations for Typhoon Haiyan, which was generating wind gusts exceeding 330 kilometres (200 miles) an hour and set to hit on Friday morning.
"To our local officials, your constituents are facing a serious peril. Let us do all we can while (Haiyan) has not yet hit land," Aquino said in a nationally televised address.
"We can minimise the effects of this typhoon if we help each other. Let us remain calm, especially in buying our primary needs, and in moving to safer places."
Aquino warned areas within the expected 600-kilometre typhoon front would be exposed to severe flooding as well as devastating winds, while coastal areas may see waves six metres (20 feet) high.
Haiyan was expected make landfall on Samar island, about 600 kilometres southeast of Manila, then cut across the central and southern Philippines before exiting into the South China Sea late on Saturday.
State weather forecaster Glaize Escullar said Haiyan was expected to hit areas still recovering from a devastating storm in 2011 and from a 7.1-magnitude quake last month.
They include the central island of Bohol, the epicentre of the earthquake that killed 222 people, where at least 5,000 survivors are 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," Bohol provincial administrator Alfonso Damalerio told AFP.
Other vulnerable areas are the port cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan on the southern island of Mindanao, where flash floods induced by Tropical Storm Washi killed more than 1,000 people in December 2011.
Authorities said evacuations were taking place in many other towns and villages in Haiyan's path, while schools were closed, ferry services suspended and fishermen ordered to secure their vessels.
Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and other carriers announced the suspension of hundreds of flights, mostly domestic but also some international.
Haiyan had maximum sustained winds on Thursday afternoon of 278 kilometres an hour, and gusts of 333 kilometres an hour, according to the US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Centre.
This made it the world's strongest typhoon this year, according to David Michael Padua, a meteorologist with the Weather Philippines Foundation, a storm monitoring organisation that runs the www.weather.com.ph website.
The Philippines is battered by an average of 20 major storms or typhoons each year, many of them deadly, but scientists have said climate change may be increasing their ferocity and frequency.
The Philippines endured the world's strongest storm of 2012, when Typhoon Bopha left about 2,000 people dead or missing on Mindanao island in December.
The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System, jointly run by the United Nations and the European Commission, said nearly 16 million people, including more than 12 million from the Philippines, were at risk from Haiyan.
The others were in Laos and Vietnam, which are forecast to be hit on Sunday, it said on its website.
"Haiyan can have a high humanitarian impact," it said. -AFP
TOKYO: Japan's military is to station four unarmed missiles on an island that sits on the gateway to the Pacific, officials said Thursday, for a major drill that has made China nervous.
The exercise, aimed at bolstering defence of Japan's southern islands, has already seen a launching system and a loader for Type-88 surface-to-ship missiles installed on Miyako island.
"This is the first time" that missile systems have been taken to Miyako, said a spokesman for the Joint Staff of the Self Defence Forces, adding that the missiles could not be fired in their present state.
"The drill is designed for the defence of islands," he said.
While the Japanese military makes no secret of the fact these missiles are not operable, observers say their deployment serves to remind anyone watching of Japan's capabilities.
The missiles were expected to arrive later Thursday and it was not clear how long they would stay for.
The Self Defense Forces began their 18 days of war games on November 1, with 34,000 military personnel, six vessels and 360 aircraft.
The exercise comes amid growing nervousness in Japan and other parts of Asia over China's surging military might, which has seen it expand its naval reach into the Pacific Ocean as it squabbles with Tokyo over the ownership of islands in the East China Sea.
It also has separate disputes with numerous countries over competing claims to territories in the South China Sea, which China claims as virtually all its own.
Chinese naval assets stationed in the north of the country are somewhat hemmed in by the chain of Japanese islands that separate the East China Sea and the Pacific. The strait between Miyako and the main island of Okinawa offers one of the few direct access points.
Tokyo has officially said the drill is not aimed at any specific nation, but Japanese leaders have openly expressed their disquiet as China escalates its territorial claims.
The Self Defence Force is also preparing to form a special amphibious unit, much like the US Marine Corps, whose remit would be to defend small islands and to take them back in case of enemy attacks.
Beijing has routinely sent government vessels to disputed islands in the East China Sea, staging dangerous face-offs between the two nations' coastguards.
The ongoing Japanese drill has irritated Beijing, where local media said there was no doubt it was targeting China.
The Global Times newspaper, which is close to the ruling Communist Party, reported on its front page Thursday that Japan's decision to bring the missiles to Miyako was "an unprecedented move that experts say is targeted at blocking the Chinese navy".
"The missile deployment is mainly set against China and it can pose real threats to the Chinese navy," Li Jie, an expert on China's navy, told the paper.
Beijing's military, through state media, has accused Tokyo of interfering in Chinese live-fire drills in the Pacific last month, an allegation that Japan denied.
Ties between Japan and China, which are routinely strained by unresolved historical grievances, have deteriorated in recent years, with emotional nationalism fanning the flames of the territorial dispute. -AFP
BANGKOK: A 12-year-old Russian boy died Thursday from injuries sustained in a Thai tourist ferry disaster, raising the death toll to seven, police said.
The double-decker boat went down on Sunday near the popular coastal resort of Pattaya, around 150 kilometres (100 miles) southeast of Bangkok.
A Polish couple, a man from Hong Kong and three Thai passengers also died.
The Russian boy, who had been in critical condition, died in a hospital in the nearby city of Si Racha on Thursday, Pattaya police commander Colonel Suwarn Chiewnawintawat said by telephone.
"There are three other people in hospital but they are out of danger," he added.
Staff at the hospital where the boy was being treated said he never regained consciousness and developed respiratory problems and swelling of the brain.
Survivors recounted scrambling for life jackets as water poured on board, forcing them to the upper deck where the boat became unstable before sinking rapidly.
The cause of the accident remains unknown but the co-owner of the boat's operator has said the ferry might have hit a rock or other object, ripping a hole in its hull.
The boat captain has been charged with causing death through negligence. The incident has revived fears over safety standards in the kingdom, which drew a record 22 million tourists last year. -AFP
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