MANILA, Philippines (AP) - A powerful typhoon slammed into the northeastern Philippines on Sunday and was barreling across the main Luzon island toward the capital in a densely populated path where thousands have been evacuated to safety.
Typhoon Noru hit the coastal town of Burdeos on Polillo Island in Quezon province shortly before nightfall.
With sustained winds of 195 kilometers (121 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 240 kph (149 mph), it was expected to weaken slightly when it hits the Sierra Madre mountain range but will remain dangerously ferocious, forecasters said.
"The typhoon is strong and we live by the sea," said Marilen Yubatan, who left her shanty in Manila with her two young daughters. "If we fall into the water, I don’t know where I will end up with my children."
The typhoon gained considerable strength from a storm with sustained winds of 85 kph (53 mph) on Saturday into a super typhoon just 24 hours later in an "explosive intensification" over the open sea, Vicente Malano, who heads the country’s weather agency, told The Associated Press.
Thousands of villagers were evacuated — some forcibly — from the typhoon’s path, as well as from mountainside villages prone to landslides and flash floods. Coastal communities could be hit by tidal surges as high as 3 meters (about 10 feet) in Quezon province, including Polillo island and nearby Aurora province.
"The combined effects of storm surge and high waves breaking along the coast may cause life-threatening and damaging inundation or flooding," the weather agency warned.
In Manila’s seaside slum district of Tondo, some residents left their homes with bags of belongings and hurriedly walked to a nearby evacuation center as the sky darkened and rains started to fall.
Melchor Avenilla Jr., who heads Quezon’s disaster-response office, said law enforcers were under orders to forcibly move people who refuse to leave their homes. "But so far we’ve been able to do this by just appealing to people," Avenilla told AP by phone.
Several provinces and cities, including the densely populated capital Manila, suspended classes and government work Sunday and Monday. The typhoon’s eye could pass about 40 to 50 kilometers (25 to 30 miles) from metropolitan Manila, "which is nearly a direct hit," Malano said.
Fishing boats and inter-island and cargo ferries were restricted to port as a precaution, the coast guard said, stranding cargo trucks and more than 2,500 passengers. More than 30 flights at Manila’s airport, mostly bound for domestic destinations, were canceled.
The typhoon is forecast to sweep through the main Luzon Island overnight and into the South China Sea on Monday. It’s on track to hit Vietnam later in the week still maintaining its powerful winds.
About 20 storms and typhoons batter the Philippines each year. The archipelago also lies in the "Pacific Ring of Fire," a region along most of the Pacific Ocean rim where many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur, making the Southeast Asian nation one of the world’s most disaster-prone.
In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest recorded tropical cyclones in the world, left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, flattened entire villages, swept ships inland and displaced more than 5 million in the central Philippines — well to the south of Noru’s path.
Associated Press journalists Joeal Calupitan and Aaron Favila contributed to this report.