Philippine officials on Wednesday raised the alert for a powerful typhoon threatening the country’s eastern coast and urged residents to leave high-risk areas before the storm hits.

Typhoon Haiyan was barrelling towards eastern and central provinces with maximum winds of 240 kilometres per hour (kph) and gusts of up to 295 kph. It was expected to intensify as it neared land, weather forecasters warned.

Haiyan, which will be called locally as Yolanda, was expected to make landfall over the eastern provinces of Samar and Leyte on Friday.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas urged residents to be prepared for evacuation, especially those living along coastlines and other high-risk areas. “All our preparation will be for nothing if we will still wait for the typhoon to arrive before we act,” he told a meeting of disaster relief officials and workers.

“Every minute is important to ensure that lives are protected.” Among the areas expected to be battered by Haiyan are the provinces of Bohol and Cebu, which were struck by a magnitude-7.2 earthquake on October 15 that killed 222 and left nearly 400,000 homeless.

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