Typhoon Haiyan: Strongest storm of the year heads for central Philippines

(CNN) -- Thousands of people in vulnerable areas of the Philippines are being relocated as the strongest storm on the planet so far this year spins toward the country.

Packing sustained winds of 280 kilometers per hour (174 mph) and gusts as strong as 335 kilometers per hour (208 mph), Super Typhoon Haiyan was churning across the Western Pacific on Thursday toward the central Philippines.

Its wind strength makes it equivalent to a category 5 hurricane.

The storm, known as Yolanda in the Philippines, is expected to still be a super typhoon, with winds in excess of 240 kilometers per hour (149 mph), when it makes landfall Friday morning in the region of Eastern Visayas.

Authorities in the region had moved more than 2,500 people to evacuation centers by early Thursday, the official Philippines News Agency reported, citing local police.

Most of those relocated live in Tacloban City, which sits on the coast of the island of Leyte and has a population of more than 200,000.

Earthquake survivors vulnerable

As it moves across heavily populated areas of the central Philippines, Haiyan's high winds and torrential rain are expected to affect millions of people. The storm system had a diameter of about 800 kilometers (500 miles) as of early Thursday afternoon.

The Philippine weather agency, Pagasa, warned more than 30 provinces across the country Thursday to be prepared for possible flash floods and landslides.

Schools in many areas canceled classes, emergency services were put on high alert, and airlines canceled flights.

Some of the most vulnerable people are those living in makeshift shelters on the central Philippine island of Bohol.

Last month, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit the island, which lies close to the typhoon's predicted path. The quake killed at least 222 people, injured nearly 1,000 and displaced around 350,000, according to authorities.

Beach resort threatened

Another island in the storm's likely trajectory is the popular beach resort of Boracay. Some tourists there were cutting their vacations short to get away from the possible danger.

Ross Evans, an aviation professional from Florida, said there was "a definite urgency and panic" among the long lines of holidaymakers waiting for boats to get off Boracay on Thursday.

Speaking by phone before his flight to Manila took off, he said he felt "horrible" for those who may end up stuck in the storm's path.

Evans said he and his travel companions, who are leaving the Philippines two days earlier than planned, "feel very fortunate to have the ability to make arrangements to be safe."

Situated near an area of the Pacific Ocean where tropical cyclones form, the Philippines regularly suffers severe storm damage.

An average of 20 typhoons hit the archipelagic nation every year, and several of those cause serious damage.

In December 2012, Typhoon Bopha wreaked widespread devastation on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The storm, the most powerful to hit the country that year, is estimated to have killed as many as 1,900 people.

CNN's Taylor Ward and Ivan Cabrera contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire
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