A super typhoon barrelled towards the Philippines Sunday and was on track to slam into the heavily populated main island of Luzon, forcing the evacuations of coastal communities, authorities said.
The typhoon gained strength as it approached the Philippines, forcing thousands of people from their homes in coastal communities on the main island of Luzon and the cancellation of dozens of flights.
Typhoon Noru strengthened with maximum sustained winds of 195 kph (121 mph) and gusts of up to 240 kph (149 mph), the state weather bureau said in an advisory hours before the storm was expected to make landfall.
"Coconut trees are swaying while banana plants have been brought down," Angelique Bosque, the mayor of the Polillo Islands, told DZRH radio station.
The storm was likely to make a direct hit on the small islands just east of Luzon.
Waves whipped up by the category 3 typhoon were battering the islands' main port and low-lying areas were flooded, Bosque said.
"We ask residents living in danger zones to adhere to calls for evacuation whenever necessary," Philippine National Police chief General Rodolfo Azurin said.
The Philippines is regularly ravaged by storms, with scientists warning they are becoming more powerful as the world gets warmer because of climate change.
Weather forecaster Robb Gile said Noru's rapid intensification as it neared land was "unprecedented". The meteorology agency said its wind speeds had increased by 90 kilometres per hour in 24 hours.
"Typhoons are like engines -- you need a fuel and an exhaust to function," said Gile.
"In the case of Karding, it has a good fuel because it has plenty of warm waters along its track and then there is a good exhaust in the upper level of the atmosphere -- so it's a good recipe for explosive intensification," he said, using the local name for the storm.
In Manila, emergency personnel braced for the possibility of strong winds and heavy rain battering the city of more than 13 million people.
Forced evacuations have started in some "high risk" areas of the capital, officials said.
"NCR is prepared. We are just waiting and hoping it will not hit us," said Romulo Cabantac, regional director for the civil defense office, referring to the National Capital Region.
Calm before the storm
Noru comes nine months after another super typhoon devastated swathes of the country, killing more than 400 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.
Residents in several municipalities in Quezon province, where this latest storm could make a direct hit, were being evacuated from their homes, said Mel Avenilla from the provincial disaster office.
In the neighbouring province of Aurora, residents of Dingalan municipality were being forced to seek shelter.
"People living near the coast have been told to evacuate. We live away from the coast so we're staying put so far. We're more worried about the water from the mountains," said Rhea Tan, 54, a restaurant manager in Dingalan.
Tan said residents were securing the roofs of their houses and boats were being taken to higher ground while the weather was still calm.
"We're even more anxious if the weather is very calm, because that's the usual indicator of a strong typhoon before it hits land," Tan added.
Noru could have wind speeds of up to 205 kilometres per hour when it makes landfall, the weather bureau said.
It is expected to weaken to a typhoon as it sweeps across central Luzon, before entering the South China Sea on Monday and heading towards Vietnam.
The weather bureau has warned of dangerous storm surges, widespread flooding and landslides as the storm dumps heavy rain.
It could topple coconut and mango trees, and cause "severe losses" to rice and corn crops in the heavily agricultural region, as well as inundate villages.
The coast guard reported more than 2,000 people had been left stranded by ferry cancellations as vessels took shelter ahead of the storm.
Numerous ferry services were suspended and airlines cancelled 30 domestic and international flights to and from Manila, authorities said.
The Philippines -- ranked among the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change -- is hit by an average of 20 storms every year.