Philippines says approaching typhoon no joke; thousands evacuated
MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino told people on Monday to take storm warnings seriously as authorities evacuated thousands of residents of coastal and mountain regions hours before the biggest typhoon this year was due to hit.
Typhoon Bopha, with winds of 175 kph (108 mph) and gusts of up to 210 kph (130 mph), is expected to make landfall early on Tuesday on the southern island of Mindanao.
"The potential destruction of this typhoon is no joke," Aquino said in a national television and radio address.
People should heed evacuation calls to avoid a repeat of a typhoon last year that killed 1,500 people on Mindanao, he said.
"This is the strongest typhoon to hit the country in 2012 ... I expect you to cooperate to avoid losses," Aquino said.
The storm cloud approaching the country was 600 km (370 miles) across and it would bring heavy rain that could cause floods and landslides, he said.
Disaster authorities have suspended ferries, banned small fishermen from going to sea, closed schools and suspended small-scale mining operations.
Emergency shelters have been set up and soldiers, police and emergency workers are evacuating entire coastal areas in some regions.
But Farm Minister Proceso Alcala said he expected minimal damage to rice and corn crops as they had only recently been planted and could be replaced quickly if damaged.
About 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year, often causing death and destruction.
(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Robert Birsel)