( AFP ) - Thousands of people continued to pour into evacuation shelters Saturday as Typhoon Mitag barrelled down on the eastern Philippines, officials said.
The head of the weather bureau, Nathaniel Cruz, said Mitag had changed course early Saturday and was heading towards the northern provinces of the main island of Luzon away from the Bicol peninsular where tens of thousands had already been evacuated.
Packing maximum sustained winds of 175 kilometres (109 miles) per hour with gusts of 210 kilometres per hour, Mitag was 220 kilometres off the Bicol peninsula, southern Luzon, and moving northwest at 11 kilometres an hour.
Cruz told local radio that on its present course Mitag is "expected to make landfall" late Sunday sparing Bicol from its full fury.
The Bicol peninsula bore the brunt of Super Typhoon Durian last year which killed 1,200 people and left 200,000 homeless.
Entire villages were obliterated and hundreds were swept to their deaths in mudslides triggered by Durian, which blew away houses and uprooted trees as it slammed into the Bicol provinces.
"Mitag would likely slam into the sparsely populated northern Luzon provinces of Aurora and Isabela late Sunday night before crossing the mountains and out into the South China Sea sometime Monday," Cruz said.
National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) head Glenn Rabonza said the council had alerted its forces in Aurora and Isabela to prepare.
He told local radio that "selective evacuation" would take place in Isabela throughout Saturday.
Rabonza added that troops had already been sent to the area.
Isabela vice governor Ramon Reyes said the provincial government's preparations focused on at least four towns in the south of the province bordering Aurora which is now expected to bear the brunt of Mitag.
Speaking on local radio he said mayors in the region "have been alerted and people are now being moved."
Reyes also said they had evacuated residents near rivers and in low-lying areas, especially near Cagayan River. He said the water in the river quickly rises during storms.
He said dump trucks, medicines and relief goods had been put in place.
"So far the roads in Isabela are passable but it will be hard to travel because rains have been heavy in the past three weeks," he told GMA 7 news.
The Philippines is frequently hit by extreme weather with tropical storm Hagibis killing 10 people last week.