MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippines evacuated northern coastal villages, suspended ferry services and called in fishing boats on Friday as an approaching category-five storm, already labelled a super typhoon, gained strength on a path set for southern China.
With center winds of 127 mph and gusts of up to 149 mph, Typhoon Usagi, the strongest storm to hit the Western Pacific this year, was moving northwest at 12 mph between the Philippines and Taiwan and headed for Hong Kong and south China.
China's Xinhua news agency said preparations were being made for an "emergency response" in southern coastal areas.
Storm alerts have been raised on the rice and coconut-growing island of Batanes and 15 provinces on the Philippines' main island of Luzon, the weather bureau said.
Tropical Storm Risk, which forecasts weather and advises on insurance and risk, labels storms from one to five, with five the strongest.
"Our people there know the drill, but we have also issued warnings to take safety precautions," Philippine Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said. "We're praying it doesn't create death and destruction."
A typhoon hit Batanes in 1987, destroying all roads as the water level surged as high as 25 feet.
"Practically, all our coconut trees broke in half," Abad said.
Power and communications in the area have been cut off for safety reasons and hospitals were put on alert as disaster agencies stocked up on food and water. Troops were also on standby.
Usagi is expected to batter the northernmost islands overnight on Friday. It is also likely to weaken before it hits southern China on Sunday night.
An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year. In 2011, Typhoon Washi killed 1,200 people, destroyed more than 10,000 homes and displaced 300,000 people.
Bopha, the strongest storm to hit last year, flattened three coastal towns on the southern island of Mindanao, killing 1,100 people and destroying crops, property and infrastructure worth $1.04 billion.