A ferocious typhoon in the western Pacific Ocean is taking aim at the fragile islands of the Philippines.
Super Typhoon Haiyan has top sustained winds of 190 mph, which is equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Gusts are estimated as high as 230 mph. It is heading northwest toward the Philippines, with landfall likely early Friday local time (Thursday night in the USA).
A typhoon becomes a super typhoon when its winds reach 150 mph, the Weather Channel reported.
Thousands of people evacuated villages in the central Philippines on Thursday including 100 coastal communities where forecasters said the storm surge could reach up to 23 feet.
Facing another possible disaster, President Benigno Aquino III warned people to leave high-risk areas, including 100 coastal communities where forecasters said the storm surge could reach up to 23 feet. He urged seafarers to stay away from choppy seas.
Aquino urged people to stay calm and avoid panic-buying of basic goods and assured the public of war-like preparations: Three C-130 air force cargo planes and 32 military helicopters and planes were on standby, along with 20 navy ships.
"No typhoon can bring Filipinos to their knees if we'll be united," he said in a nationally televised address.
Haiyan is probably the most powerful storm on the Earth this year, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue of WeatherBell.
Haiyan should "weaken" slightly as it approaches land, with winds of about 172 mph expected when it hits land.
"Rain totals along the path of Haiyan could top 8 inches," said AccuWeather meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski. Mudslides are a serious concern in the higher terrain, she said, where localized totals of 10 to 12 inches are possible.
The storm should roar near the capital city of Manila, home of 12 million people, late Friday or early Saturday local time, the Weather Channel predicted.
Several typhoons and tropical storms have battered the Philippines this year, killing at least 30 people. The nation is also recovering from an earthquake that killed more than 150 people last month.
The typhoon is the fourth Category 5 storm on the planet this year and the fourth in the western Pacific, according to Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters.
Haiyan, which is the Chinese word for a petrel seabird, is referred to as "Yolanda" in the Philippines, Masters said. It is the 28th named storm of the 2013 western Pacific typhoon season.
Contributing: The Associated Press