Bopha grows stronger as it draws close to Philippines
POSTED: Monday, December 3, 2012 - 4:15pm
UPDATED: Monday, December 3, 2012 - 4:35pm
CNN — The Philippines waited in darkness late Monday for the arrival of a menacing typhoon that grew even stronger as it closed in, heightening fears that it could be even worse than a 2011 storm that killed more than 1,200 people.
Millions of people, many of whom live in remote and unprepared communities, were in Typhoon Bopha's path, according to the government and aid groups.
The storm gained strength Monday, becoming a super typhoon with sustained winds greater than 150 mph (240 kph) -- the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center reported.
That wind speed is two and a half times the top winds of Severe Tropical Storm Washi, the 2011 system that wiped out entire villages in the same region. That storm was known in the Philippines as Sendong.
"Many emotional people in (Mindanao) trying to prepare for Pablo with Sendong fresh in their minds," childrens' charity Plan International's Philippines director, Carin van der Hor, wrote Monday on Twitter.
The tightly packed but powerful storm threatened to bring devastating flash floods, landslides and flooding to coastal regions. High winds could blast some homes into sticks, uproot trees and cut power for days, government officials warned.
In the fishing village of Hinatuan, where the storm is expected to make landfall, officials were warning coastal and island residents to evacuate to government shelters in the final hours before the storm hits, CNN affiliate ABS-CBN reported.
"The weather is good right now but we keep advising local governments not to be complacent because this is going to get worse," ABS-CBN quoted regional civil defense director Olive Luces as saying.
It was expected to strike Mindanao's northeast coast around 8 a.m. Tuesday (7 p.m Monday ET).
As of Monday afternoon, the storm's center was about 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of Hinatuan, Suriago del Sur, according to the Phillipine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration.
At sea near the storm, waves reached as high as 52 feet, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. On land, the outer bands of the storm had already begun to bring intense rain and high winds to coastal communities, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
Government agencies had moved millions of dollars worth of relief supplies into position for quick delivery to storm-hit regions and put emergency crews, the military and hospitals on standby.
The looming threat to Mindanao comes just weeks ahead of the first anniversary of Washi, whose heavy rains set off flash floods in the middle of the night that swept away entire villages.
More than 1,200 people died and hundreds of thousands were left homeless, prompting a humanitarian crisis.
Stormy weather in recent months also has caused death and destruction in other areas of the Philippines, where poor infrastructure leaves many communities highly vulnerable.
Severe flooding in the region of the capital, Manila, killed more than 80 people in August. And Tropical Cyclone Son-Tinh left at least 27 people dead after sweeping across the central Philippines in October.
Palau, a tiny island nation roughly 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) east of Mindanao, had a close shave with Bopha as the typhoon churned past, catching some outlying parts of the archipelago.
"It was headed right toward Palau," said Derek Williams, a meteorologist for the U.S. National Weather Service in Guam. But at the last minute, "it just turned to the west and fortunately went south of them," he said.
"I really think they escaped the brunt of the storm," Williams said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, noting that Palau doesn't usually get hit by strong typhoons.
Bopha nonetheless brought down a lot of trees and caused widespread power outages in Palau, according to Williams.
"The fast movement of the system really prevented a lot of flooding," he said. "I think probably only a few inches of rain fell, so that's certainly good news, because Palau itself is susceptible to mudslides."
CNN's Michael Pearson reported from Atlanta and CNN's Jethro Mullen reported from Hong Kong.