Authorities distributed canned goods and rescue boats and kept helicopters on standby as Typhoon Lupit slowed to a crawl along a course that forecasters said might hit the northern Philippines by Friday or veer toward Taiwan.
The government is determined to allow "zero casualties" for this typhoon, following two back-to-back storms in the past month that killed more than 850 people, National Disaster Coordinating Council spokesman Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres said Wednesday.
For the past week, army troops and disaster-relief officials have ferried tons of canned food and clothes and moved rubber boats and helicopters along the coast and inland mountains devastated by mudslides in the earlier storms.
Selective evacuations from danger zones — low-lying areas, cliffs and mountain slopes — had begun, he said, while the coast guard grounded vessels after the weather bureau warned of an 8-foot wave surge along the beaches of northeastern Cagayan and Isabela provinces.
Schools in the provinces were closed.
Lupit — a Filipino word for cruel — was spinning toward the northern Philippines with winds of 108 miles per hour and gusts of up to 130 mph. It had been projected to make landfall in Cagayan on Thursday, but slowed down and may hit shore by Friday "or change course slightly and head for Taiwan," said the head of the weather bureau, Prisco Nilo.
The storm is more powerful than Ketsana, which unleashed heavy downpour and the worst flooding in 40 years and around the capital Manila on Sept. 26, killing 420 people, and the subsequent Typhoon Parma, which left 438 dead.
The homes of 7 million people were flooded and thousands remain in evacuation centers as the massive cleanup and rebuilding had only started.
In Benguet province, where dozens of landslides buried houses with entire families, village heads were using megaphones to warn about the impending typhoon, and sirens will be sounded once it makes landfall, said Loreto Espineli, the provincial police chief.
"The frequent storms are making it very difficult for relief agencies to help rebuild. Another storm, or any calamity, would be sure to set back their recovery," said Filomena Portales, a spokeswoman for relief agency World Vision.
The threat of landslides forced the agency to suspend a relief distribution in Benguet and instead focus on helping at least 4,000 families in Pangasinan province, northwest of Manila, she said.
UNICEF moved emergency health kits with drugs, buckets and water purification tablets for 8,000 families in four strategic locations, said country representative Vanessa Tobin.